Simanaitis Says

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ART GIVES PLEASURE in many ways. It can illuminate; it can provoke. It can be ephemeral; it can be timeless. All of the above describe the artistic endeavors of Christo. Here are tidbits about this artist’s unorthodox art installations, together with tales of our enjoying them.

Christo in 2015, at the site of The Floating Piers, on Lake Iseo, in the Lombardy region of Italy. Image by Andrea Frazzetta for The New York Times, May 31, 2020. Below, The Floating Piers, 2016, image by Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times.

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known by only his first name in his art years, was Bulgarian-born in 1935. He died in New York City on May 31, 2020, at age 84. For many years, Christo art installations were co-productions with his wife Jeanne-Claude, who also used only her given name. Jeanne-Claude née Denat de Guillebon predeceased Christo in 2009, at age 74.

Art of the Outdoors. As noted by Wikipedia, the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude were “typically large, visually impressive, and controversial, often taking years and sometimes decades of careful preparation.” Artistic and technical aspects were only part of this; so were political negotiation, public persuasion, government permitting, and environmental approval.

Above, Christo and Jeanne-Claude with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at the opening of The Gates, February 2005. Image by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times. Below, The Gates meandered through New York City’s Central Park. Image by Earl Wilson/The New York Times..

Self-financed Art. Unlike many artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude refused grants, scholarships, donations, or public money. Instead, they financed their projects through sale of their studies’ drawings, collages, scale models, lithographs, and ephemera.

Wrapping as Art. As described at, wrapping “challenges the viewer to reappraise the objects beneath” and the space in which they exist.

Package on a Table, 1961.

Package on a Table, 1961, is an early Christo wrapping. More elaborate wrappings include Bern, Switzerland’s Wrapped Kunsthalle, 1968, the first fully wrapped building; and Berlin’s The Wrapped Reichstag, 1995, 24 years in the making.

The Wrapped Reichstag, 1995, collage. Photo by Wolfgang Volz.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, in Progress. Planned for 2021, wrapping this Paris landmark in silver-blue fabric has been delayed, first in 2019 for a charming reason: an on-site nesting of kestral falcons. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. It was announced on the day of Christo’s death, May 31, 2020, that, according to his wishes, the project would be continued.

The Umbrellas Japan-USA. Back in 1991, a Christo and Jeanne-Claude project of seven years brought arrays of 3100 umbrellas to the Prefecture of Ibaraki, Japan, and to Southern California. As described in, “This Japan-USA temporary work of art reflected the similarities and differences in the ways of life and the use of land in two inland valleys, one 12 miles (19 kilometers) long in Japan, and the other 18 miles (29 kilometers) in the USA.”

Each umbrella was 6 m. (19 ft. 8 in.) in height, with a diameter of 8.66 m (28 ft. 5 in.). Those in Japan were blue; U.S. umbrellas were yellow.

Personal Experiences. I was in Japan for the 1991 Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit, October 20, followed by press days for the Tokyo Motor Show, which ran from October 25 through November 8. Following my usual practice, I borrowed a car for my visit and included a few days of what I used to call “early retirement” after the work responsibilities.

Denise McCluggage, rest her dear soul, accompanied me on a half-day adventure to Ibaraki, about 75 miles north of Tokyo, to see the umbrellas along Route 349 and the Sato River. As noted by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, removal of the temporary installation began on October 27, the land was restored to its original condition, and umbrellas were taken apart with most elements recycled.

Denise and I each bought a swatch of the blue fabric.

Above, the blue umbrellas of Ibaraki Prefecture. Below, the yellow umbrellas of Southern California.

At around the same time, an ocean away, Wife Dottie and Daughter Suz made the trip of about 100 miles from Orange County up to the Tejon Ranch, along Interstate 5 south of Gorman to the Grapevine. There, the hillsides were festooned with umbrellas, these in yellow. Wife Dottie and Daughter Suz returned with their purchases of swatches.

Wife Dottie recalls the trip as a last significant drive in her much-loved red 1974 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe.

Thanks, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, for your art, the adventures, and the memories. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020


  1. Michael Rubin
    June 5, 2020

    Though “Running Fence” was silly until I saw it flowing across Sonoma and Marin open lands and pastures, mich of it visible from Highway 101. Christo artwork always had a very public sense about it, unlike paintings and so on requiring visiting inside a building. We saw the Taejon Pass umbrellas the same way, but as a surprise since we weren’t really aware of it, living in Northern California. It was like a gift we weren’t expecting.

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