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Uncovered by Wrapping

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
Artists Christo (b.1935) and Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) have been known for their grand-scale environmental works. In 1971, Michael Cullen, a Berlin historian, suggested to the New York-based married couple that they wrap the Reichstag—a German edifice that was an historic parliament building that stood next to the Berlin Wall. After the fall of the Wall it became a symbol of freedom, democracy, and German reunification. It took Christo and Jeanne-Claude twenty-four years to receive permission from the German government. Cullen’s idea was finally realized in June of 1995, and on opening day 600,000 visitors from all over the world came to Berlin to view the enormous Wrapped Reichstag.
   
The wrapping process took eight days, and the artists employed nearly 100,000 square meters of fireproof polypropylene fabric that was covered by an aluminum layer. The artists’ use of large amounts of fabric allowed for deep vertical pleats that were whimsically rocked by the winds of summer. For Christo and Jeanne-Claude the fabric was the most important aspect of the work. One of the on-site monitors, Ursula Kolmstetter had interviewed the artists regarding their use of fabric: “It’s not the act of wrapping that is important, but the use of fabric in many different colors and forms,” Jeanne-Claude explained, while Christo noted, “Fabric was always a great inspiration for thousands of years, in marble, bronze, wood and other material. The rich falls in the walls of the Wrapped Reichstag have a dramatic expression, they reflect the falls, pleats and drapery you can see in the Pergamon Museum.”
    ***(Ursula Kolmstetter, “All Wrapped Up: Christo and Jeanne-Claude Conquer the Reichstag,” NUVO Newsweekly, July 27-Aug. 3, 1995). The Reichstag stood wrapped for several weeks and drew more than five million visitors.

Permission to wrap buildings was not always granted for Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Three decades prior to wrapping the Reichstag, in the winter of 1964, Christo and Jeanne-Claude arrived in New York on board the SS France ocean liner. Upon seeing the tall buildings of downtown Manhattan, Christo made the first collages of two Lower Manhattan wrapped buildings, No. 2 Broadway and No. 20 Exchange Place. Later, when the artists requested permission to realize the project, the buildings’ owners refused. In 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were turned down for proposing to wrap the No. 1 Times Square building, former headquarters of The New York Times.
   
This month the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) is presenting artist Jessica Stockholder’s Color Jam, a large-scale art installation with three-dimensional flashes of color and geometric shapes that cascade from several downtown buildings’ facades onto the sidewalk and streets. The work wraps the intersection of State Street and Adams Street with bold colors. Philip Barash, CLA’s director of marketing and development, commented that Color Jam was constructed from over 76,000 square feet of vinyl, enough material to wrap more than 130 city buses, or make 50,000 vinyl records. Barash explained that Color Jam is the largest public artwork in Chicago’s history and the largest contiguous vinyl project in the country.
   
Color Jam is Stockholder’s response to her new urban environment, and while referencing the history of painting she affirms the city street’s power and grace. Stockholder writes: “The fictive potential of surface, so thoroughly cultivated through the history of painting is always ready to burst, spilling forth imagined richness, full of emotional, subjective resonance, and wandering focus, is here woven together with the more mundane everyday surface of the street corner. Color Jam celebrates and demands that the evocative surface of this Chicago street corner be expanded. The corner is canvas, stage, pedestal, and frame against which the public can view a parade of shifting color relationships.”
   **(from http://www.chicagoloopalliance.com) Color Jam runs through September 30.

Published: June 10, 2012
Issue: Summer 2012 Issue