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When Historical Partnerships End Before the Work Is Finished

Posted: 12/02/2009 10:25 am

2009: Born on the same day near the same hour on June 13, 1935, conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude never flew in a plane together. For two people seemingly fused together and yet fiercely independent, one of the great misconceptions about their art was that the artist was solely Christo. So great was this error about their work, that the pair devoted an entire section on their website to corrections: "The artist is not Christo. The artists are Christo and Jeanne-Claude ... Jeanne-Claude does not make drawings, she was not trained for that. Christo puts their ideas on paper, he never had an assistant in the studio."

When Jeanne Claude passed away on November 18th of complications from a brain aneurysm, a new correction was added to their website: that the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude would continue. An interview with the pair explains how their dual-person artistic model began.

Jeanne-Claude and I have been working together since our first outdoor temporary work: "Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor, 1961." The decision to use only the name "Christo" was made deliberately when we were young because it is difficult for one artist to get established and we wanted to put all the chances on our side. Therefore, we declared that Christo was the artist and Jeanne-Claude was the manager, the art dealer, the coordinator and the organizer. And, this served us very well for many years." Of course, all our collaborators always said, "Christo and Jeanne-Claude," but for the public and the media, it was "Christo." By 1994, though, when my hair had turned gray and Jeanne-Claude's hair had turned red (laughter), we decided we were mature enough to tell the truth, so we officially changed the artist name "Christo" into the artists "Christo and Jeanne-Claude." All works created to be indoors, from 1958 until today, such as Wrapped Objects and Packages, drawings, collages, scale models and lithographs are works by "Christo." All works created to be outdoors, and the large scale indoor temporary installations, are works by "Christo and Jeanne-Claude."

And so it will continue after fifty-one years: "Christo is dedicated to completing their current works in progress: Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, and The Mastaba, Project for the United Arab Emirates, as Jeanne-Claude would wish ... It is Jeanne-Claude's wish that her body be donated to scientific research."

1906: When Marie Curie heard the news that her husband Pierre had been struck down by a heavy wagon in the Paris streets and killed, her first thought was that of disbelief:

I enter the room. Someone says: 'He is dead.' Can one comprehend such words? Pierre is dead, he who I have seen leave looking fine this morning, he who expected to press in my arms this evening, I will only see him dead and it's over forever. I repeat your name again and always, "Pierre, Pierre, Pierre, my Pierre,' alas that doesn't make his come back, he is gone forever, leaving me nothing but desolation and despair.

The next day, news of Pierre's death shared the headlines with the earthquake in San Francisco, dimming what might have been national catastrophe into an intensely personal one for Marie. Pierre had been approaching an end to his teaching at the Sorbonne, preparing to spend most of his days in the lab with Marie. Now Marie had to continue her work there alone.

Yesterday I gave the first class replacing my Pierre. What grief and what despair! You would have been happy to see me as a professor at the Sorbonne, and I myself would have so willingly done it for you--But to do it in your place, my Pierre, could one dream of a thing more cruel. And how I suffered with it, and how depressed I am. I feel very much that all my ability to live is dead in me, and I have nothing left but the duty to raise my children and also the will to continue the work I have agreed to. Maybe also the desire to prove to the world and above all to myself that that which you loved so much has some real value. I also have a vague hope, very weak alas, that you perhaps know about my sad life and the effort and that you would be grateful and also that I will find you perhaps more easily in the other world if there is one...That is now the only preoccupation of my life. I can no longer think of living for myself, I don't have the desire not the faculty, I don't feel at all lively any more nor young, I no longer know what joy is or even pleasure. Tomorrow I will be 39...I probably have only a little time to realize at least a part of the work I have begun.

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