Friday, October 5, 2012

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Christo and Jeanne-Claude

This week, I had one of my writing classes read a review of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's public artwork entitled The Gates, a series of 7532 frames draped with bright orange fabric set up in Central Park in New York in February of 2005.

Photo by Wikipedia user Delaywaves, CC BY 3.0
The review, written by John Garvey and published in Commonweal (sorry, it's behind a paywall), mentioned several things that made me think about how the work of art, and in fact, much of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's art, bore similarities to the fantastic.  For starters, Garvey discussed how seeing artwork like The Gates made him see "the colors and forms of the city outside with new eyes.  It is this reawakening of the senses that makes many forms of art important, not any message."  This idea strikes me as being very similar to how fantasy works--it enables us to look at the world around us with fresh eyes, to think about our everyday lives in a new, exciting way.

I was also intrigued by the fact that Christo and Jeanne-Claude set up gates, rather than just flags or banners of some sort.  It's almost as if part of the power of this art installation lies in the fact that the viewer goes through something, from one world to another, like walking through a wardrobe into Narnia or a portal to another dimension.  And as a result, the installation has an emphasis on liminality that wouldn't otherwise exist, further connecting it to the fantastic.

Photo by Morris Pearl, CC BY-SA 3.0

The liminal nature of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work is further emphasized by its temporary nature.  The Gates was up for less than a month--all of the rest of their works have been temporary as well.  This impermanence of these works, along with their grand scale, makes them seem, in the words of one of my students, "surreal."  He said this as a particular reference to perhaps my favorite installation of theirs--The Umbrellas, a project that spanned an ocean.  Huge umbrellas were set up in two countries: 1340 blue umbrellas in Japan and 1760 yellow umbrellas in California.  Here's a link to pictures of the umbrellas in both countries.

I read somewhere that Christo said something about how his art was particularly courageous because he knew it wasn't going to last forever.  I like that.  I like the idea of embracing beauty, however fleeting, and working to bring delight and wonder into the world, if only for a moment.

By Jen Miller