Since arriving in New York City in 1964, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always compared their work to that of urban planners. The very fact that their larger-than-life projects are subject to approval by local authorities makes them resemble public construction projects more than works of art. This is what the new monograph Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Urban Projects (Distributed Art Publishers) seeks to showcase. On the heels of a Galerie Gmurzynska retrospective in Zurich featuring six decades of their sculpture, drawings, photographs, and archival material, the book presents drawings, collages, and models for many other lesser-known works. Several of these installations, such as the planned wrapping of several New York City skyscrapers, were never carried out. But the large-scale projects of later years, such as the wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1985, the wrapping of the Reichstag building in Berlin in 1995, and the 2005 installation The Gates in New York’s Central Park have left lasting impressions on the respective cities.
A drawing of The Mastaba when it was proposed for installation in Abu Dhabi. It is currently slated to be unveiled in London’s Hyde Park next month.
Now, Christo is at work on a new piece in London’s Hyde Park, his first in the U.K. The Mastaba, which started construction in April, is being built from 7,506 multicolored barrels stacked into a trapezoidal pyramid that stands 65 feet tall, 90 feet wide, and 130 feet long, all floating on Serpentine Lake behind Kensington Palace. The temporary sculpture, set to be completed in late June, will be on view to the public through September 23. This is Christo’s second collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. (The organization’s founder, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, was an ardent supporter of The Gates, comprising 7,503 vinyl gates along 23 miles of pathways in Central Park.)
AD spoke with Christo, 82, at his SoHo studio where he’s in town in between trips to London for The Mastaba.
Architectural Digest: Please talk about how you see yourself as more urban planner than artist.
Christo: A painting is a flat surface and a sculpture is a 3D surface. All that space is shaped by the artist. With contemporary art installations, that space is shaped by the artist, whereas sidewalks are designed by an urban planner. It’s commanded by people walking in the space. The space is used by humans. We never do projects in the countryside – only in cities where there is a relation to humans. When we wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin, for example, the work of art becomes the space.
A model showing one of Christo and Jean-Claude’s 47 unrealized works, Lower Manhattan Wrapped Buildings (Project for New York City), 1964.