‘It’s Without Safety Nets’: Performa Will Honor the Invigorating, Arduous Process of Working With Christo and Jeanne-Claude

RoseLee Goldberg will honor artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude at the 2018 Performa Gala.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude during the work of art The Gates, Central Park, New York (2005). Photo by Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo, 2005.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude during the work of art The Gates, Central Park, New York (2005). Photo by Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo, 2005.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are probably not the first artists you think of when you think of performance art. They have filled Central Park with saffron-colored gates, covered Italy’s Lake Iseo with 100,000 square feet of yellow fabric, and created a floating Mastaba in the middle of London’s Serpentine Lake. Nevertheless, the performance art biennial Performa plans to honor them at its forthcoming gala on November 1 in New York.

“I have always stayed away from any definition of what constitutes performance art other than a broad one, which is that it is live art by artists,” says Performa’s director and chief curator RoseLee Goldberg. “Christo’s work, from the very beginning, has always had a live, strongly activist element. It has always Involved time, both in the preparation (often a very long process) and the execution.”

Goldberg is staying tight-lipped on the specifics of the affair, but promises an evening full of tributes to longtime Soho residents Christo and his late wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009. Performa reliably creates a spectacle of art, music, and yes, performance at its galas, considering every element of the evening. (Last year’s dinner honoring Yoko Ono featured a Dada-inspired first course/art piece in which guests were given scissors and a paper bag with which to cut and toss their salad.)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be honored at the 2018 Performa Gala. Photo courtesy of Performa.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be honored at the 2018 Performa Gala. Photo courtesy of Performa.

Just don’t expect Christo to wrap the party venue in yards of fabric. “We do not ask Christo to do anything,” Goldberg told artnet News. “Rather, we invite Christo to be delighted, surprised and hopefully moved by the way that we and everyone in the room will honor him.”

Is it a stretch to consider him a performance artist? “I have always stayed away from any definition of what constitutes performance art other than a broad one, which is that it is live art by artists,” Goldberg said. “Christo’s work, from the very beginning, has always had a live, strongly activist element. It has always involved time, both in the preparation (often a very long process) and the execution.”

“Once a work of theirs is completed, it disappears. It exists only through documentation, archival material and memory of the experience, the city or place,” she continued, lauding the artists for “the active ways they involve the public and how the public chooses to navigate—around, through or on top of—each site-specific installation.”

Christo and Jeanne-Claude during the work of art The Gates, Central Park, New York (2005). Photo by Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo, 2005.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude during the work of art The Gates, Central Park, New York (2005). Photo by Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo, 2005.

Goldberg first met Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1972, when she was director of the Royal College of Art Gallery in London. She asked to exhibit documentation of their most recent project, Valley Curtain, staged Rifle, Colorado.

“It was stunning and a wonderful beginning to a friendship,” Goldberg recalled. “In the early ’70s, their work had all the qualities of live performance; radical, outside of art-world expectations, layered with social and political critique.… Over more than five decades later, I still view Christo and Jeanne-Claude that way.”

It’s that same spirit she sees as a guiding principle for Performa. “When you’re involved in a project with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, it’s an extraordinary process without safety nets,” said Goldberg. “Similarly, at Performa we feel that each project involves total risk and total trust in the artists’ vision.”


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