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Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude—recognized by first name only—have created several magical moments in very public spaces. In Central Park, it was The Gates. In Japan and California, it was The Umbrellas. They’ve covered trees in Switzerland and buildings in Berlin, hung a curtain in a valley, and created a pier in Venice for the public to literally walk on water.
Their most recently realized project (Jeanne-Claude passed in 2009), The London Mastaba, a giant floating sculpture made of barrels, was installed over the summer at Serpentine Lake in London.
Just how much goes into one of their installations, which rarely last for more than a few days or weeks, is examined in “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980–83
| A Documentary Exhibition” at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) (on view through February 17, 2019), through the lens of one that debuted 35 years ago. The exhibition tells the story of Surrounded Islands from 1983 in Miami’s Biscayne Bay through archival documentation, objects, drawings, models, and a film. For this work, which took place for just two weeks that May, Christo and Jeanne-Claude encircled 11 islands in the bay with 6.5 million square feet of pink fabric.
Weeks before that opening, Christo shared with us the story of Surrounded Islands.
WHITEWALLER: What goes into a project like Surrounded Islands, the subject of the exhibition at PAMM?
CHRISTO: I make contemporary works of art that stay for two weeks or three weeks, but after that, everything is removed, materials are recycled. To get permission for the project takes many years, and making the work is a very long process. Each is unique—we don’t do the same thing ever again. It costs money, and the money comes from the sale of original works of art that I make with my own hands.
There are architectural sketches, scale models. I do many of them, sometimes less if the project takes a short time to realize. The Gates in Central Park took 20 years, so there are many sketches and drawings.
When the project is removed, we collect the real components—the cables, anchors, fabric, documentation, drawings, scale models, photographs. The exhibition is a total view of the project, from the inspiration to the realization.
It is a great pleasure to bring the Surrounded Islands exhibition to the United States. This is something nobody ever saw in the United States. The exhibition is really telling the story of the project.
WW: What was the inspiration for Surrounded Islands?
C: The idea for Surrounded Islands, like all our ideas, comes from many, many things. We are fascinated, Jeanne-Claude and myself, with where water meets earth. In 1974, we did a small project in Newport, Rhode Island, called Ocean Front. We covered a little bay with fabric. It’s a little less known, but this is the earliest of the large Surrounded Islands.
When we arrived in Florida in the late seventies, we drove around with a journalist from the Miami Herald. She was entrusted with driving us around Miami in different communities, and we were crossing the Biscayne Bay. We repeatedly asked her to cross the causeway again. She thought we would like to wrap a bridge. But no, we were looking at the islands. We wanted to surround the island with the floating fabric.