The husband-wife artists known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude -- responsible for beautiful, temporary works of art such as Valley Curtain and The Gates in Central Park -- were divided on November 18, 2009, when Jeanne-Claude died at age 74 as the result of a brain aneurysm. The world will remember her April 26 in a private ceremony at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (which will stream live to the public on http://www.christojeanneclaude.net at 4:30 PM EST).
Although the invitation to Jeanne-Claude's memorial has been sitting on my dresser for months, I never gave Christo an RSVP. I don't know why I didn't write, or call, or email when I heard the news. I guess I was just waiting for a rainy day to sit down and remember Jeanne-Claude in my own way, by looking at the generous stack of holiday greetings, postcards signed in orange crayon, calendars, books, and gallery invitations she and Christo sent me over the years.
On top sits the memorial card -- with a candid snapshot by photographer Wolfgang Volz that captures Jeanne-Claude mid-sentence, talking and working. Her personality shines through, but the black-and-white image disguises the flame-red hair that, over the years, became her signature look and calling card.
I'll never forget the first time I met the pair, in the early-1990s, for an interview at their loft in lower Manhattan. I couldn't help but smile when Jeanne-Claude opened the door. She was so strong and vivacious -- and yes, I noticed her hair right away. But then she sat me down, offered me water and mixed nuts, and proceeded to tell me all the things that made her partnership with Christo so unique: they shared the same birthday (June 13, 1935); they never flew in the same aircraft; they never used volunteers (all of their project help is paid); and they never accepted donations: their large-scale projects, she told me, were (and still are) financed by the sale of Christo's drawings.
Looking at a book of Christo's drawings that Jeanne-Claude gave me, I can't imagine how the duo encountered so much flak during their more than 50-year partnership in the art world (a legacy that Christo now continues on his own). Anyone who considers Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work nothing more than expensive, pseudo-environmental spectacle probably knows little about art. To see or to hold one of Christo's drawings is to experience the Seine lapping against The Pont Neuf Wrapped or the sun reflecting off his bright yellow Umbrellas. And at the heart of Christo's works on paper was always Jeanne-Claude's vision for how to get the project off the ground -- and into the river, through the park, or around an island. What a team.
My favorite memories of Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the photos I have from a trip to Berlin in 1995, when I was their guest at a dinner party celebrating The Wrapping of the Reichstag. Seeing 100,000 meters of aluminum-surfaced polypropylene covering one of Europe's most important buildings was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. Dining with the artists was fun, too. Among the pieces of advice Jeanne-Claude gave me that night: "Don't eat whole black peppercorns. They're bad for your body." Maybe it was the hair, or the smile, but I took heed.
To this day, I require my pepper finely ground -- and my art skyward-bound.
Thank you, Jeanne-Claude. I'll miss you.
And to Christo: Keep working! I'll be in touch soon.