114. Christo, 1935-2020

I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really properly appreciate art.

IMG_8433I breeze through museums at my normal walking speed, wondering what those people are seeing who sit on those benches in the middle of the gallery, staring at one picture endlessly. I’ve even audited several art history courses in the hopes of deepening my appreciation, but no luck. Oh sure, there are some works I like better than others. But I am always afraid that it’s for the most superficial of reasons — a pretty scene, bright colors, a skillful rendering of something difficult. I had an old boyfriend once tell me that I looked at paintings as if I were picking out wallpaper. Not nice, but probably true. I am not confident I could tell the difference between a great work of art and a merely competent one.

That said, there was something about Christo’s work that really moved me, and I was sad to see in yesterday’s New York Times that he had passed away. The audacity of what he and his wife and creative partner Jeanne-Claude did — taking over large swatches of the landscape and altering them in some temporary way — ended up with a finished result that defied all expectations and engendered a heartfelt response in the thousands of people who came to see them. What sounded audacious at best, and ridiculous at worst, ended up speaking to people in a way that was extraordinary.

My daughter Lizy at The Gates in Central Park

When I first heard about The Gates, his 2005 installation of 7500 frames holding saffron-colored banners in New York’s Central Park, I thought it sounded nuts. But when my family went, seeing those banners brightening the gray February afternoon and being a part of the joyful crowds walking beneath them was an exercise in community and joy. So in 2016 when I read that Christo was doing an installation at Lake Iseo in northern Italy, I knew we had to go, even though one of us happened to be on crutches at the time.

I’ve always felt slightly guilty about this

Christo’s “Floating Piers,” consisting of two miles of saffron-fabric covered floating barrels that created a walkway between mainland and islands, was like being a part of an uplifting community festival, as thousands of us literally “walked on water,” fulfilling his artistic vision. IMG_1107I don’t know if it was the sheer scale of the thing or the shades of orange or the slight rocking of the surface and the possibility of falling overboard, but just as with the Gates of Central Park, we were gathered from all corners of the world in a moment of shared communal merriment.IMG_1109

It being Italy, of course, a high point of our memory of the day was the food. A local civic organization had erected a tent to feed the masses, and we had an amazing dinner of grilled lake fish and vegetables, stuffed pasta and polenta, all for about $20 for two, including wine.IMG_3356 A perfect day for all the senses.

Crowds still streaming on The Floating Piers as the sun sets.



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