“So motherfucker, can’t you see
I pity the sonofabitch that fucks with [Christo]”
–Rudy Ray Moore
I am Writing to inform you that I am at my last straw with you assholes making fun of Christo. It would be fine if you knew what you were talking about and were just giving him some shit, some snaps, some good natured ribbing and what not. But I’m afraid that ain’t the case.
Don’t give me that dumb look like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Christo, the legendary/infamous “environmental artist” whose work is usually described as “wrapping things in plastic.” Throughout the last several decades this dude and his wife/partner Jeanne-Claude (who never gets made fun of because the people who make fun of Christo don’t even know the basic facts of his work) have performed such epic feats as building a giant curtain through a valley, building a giant fence through Sonoma county, turning several islands into giant pink lilly pads, and wrapping up the Pont Neuf bridge over there in France. This week they finally unveiled a project in Central Park that they’ve been trying to do forever. Since it’s a big deal in New York and most of the American media is based there, now we gotta deal with a bunch of ignorant fuckers making fun of him on all the TV shows.
Now let me explain. The projects listed above, they all sound pretty stupid when you put it the way I put it. Just like “the guy from Moonlighting running around a building with no shoes on” sounds like a stupid movie. But you don’t see assholes going around making fun of Die Hard everywhere you look, so why Christo? Well I’ll tell you why. It’s because he’s literally the only guy in the world who does what he does, and that scares people. People assume that because he does these huge ambitious capital letter ART projects that means he is some pretentious fuck who thinks too highly of himself and too lowly of everybody else. They make an ass out of you and me. They make up this imaginary character doing imaginary projects that have nothing to do with the real Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and then they make jokes about it.
For example, that Comedy Central show The Daily Show. A real funny fake news show that’s generally more informative and accurate than the real news shows. Just like everybody else, they had a piece joking about the sheets of fabric hanging from metal poles in Central Park. Fair enough, and there were some funny jokes. But most of the thing was based on the premise that Christo makes up some bullshit meaning for his projects, like they are supposed to be some symbolic statement. This is the #1 misconception about my man Christo. Sure, he puts alot of thought into what kind of fabric to use, what color, what time of year to do it. But that’s because he wants it to look pretty. He is not making a statement. He is just building something huge and hopefully beautiful that some lucky motherfuckers will get to see for a week or two, and then never again.
I mean how can he be that much of an egomaniac if the whole point of his work is that it’s temporary? He likes to create memories. Remember when that weirdo built a giant fence through our ranch? That was awesome. He doesn’t hang up a painting or a statue and expect you to look at it forever. In Seattle, in front of a big hotel, there’s a huge metal statue that looks somewhere between a crumpled up piece of paper and a pile of dog shit. I don’t know what the deal is with that statue, I am not a fan of that statue. But I’m sure the guy was paid alot of money for it. Christo is the opposite – he makes something colorful that blows in the wind, he spends his own money on it and doesn’t earn a dime, and if you don’t like looking at it it’s okay because it’s gone in a week and a half.
Now, from some of the crappy camera angles I’ve seen, I’m not sure I’m as impressed by this New York project as by his previous ones. The truth is I’ve never seen one of these things in person so it’s hard to really say. I’m sure most of the value comes from seeing it in person and hearing the wind blow through it and etc. But regardless, this guy is spending $21 million of his own money to try to paint a pretty picture for you New Yorkers. At the very least you gotta give him credit on the “it’s the thought that counts” ethos. You oughta be sending him a thank you card, not peeing all over his good name.
In the media, even when somebody compliments the project, it’s usually a backhanded one that admits the project is beautiful but then questions why anybody would do it. It’s magnificently beautiful, I almost wet myself and died at the same time, it was like getting a blowjob from two angels, I couldn’t believe it, however why does this faggot waste his money, I think he may be French, we oughta throw him in Abu Ghraib for this.
I guess this is based on the idea that if someone has that kind of money they should be spending it to help people in need – shelter the homeless or help Tsunami victims or overthrow the American government. Okay, I can understand this line of reasoning, but if you’re gonna apply it to the genius one of a kind artist who spends his money to put a smile on people’s faces and a twinkle in people’s eyes then you gotta apply it to everybody else who spends money. If Christo is wrong to create his art then it is wrong to remodel a building or make a movie or throw a party. Peter Jackson shouldn’t be building that cool hobbit ranch and Paul Allen shouldn’t be building spaceships and the guy from Virgin records shouldn’t be hunting sharks from hot air balloons or whatever it is he does with his money. And what about all the millionaires who spend their money on themselves? How come they don’t get criticized as much as Christo does? They got whole rap albums about how great it is to spend money on yourself.
I mean fine, the guy who spends all his money on helping people is the best guy. We can agree on that. But Christo is also a good guy. He spends his money on art projects instead of on mansions and cars and cocaine and stocks and mercenaries. Give him some credit.
You may be asking, how the fuck does a guy like Vern get to know, or care, about Christo? Well I’m glad you may be asking that because I may be telling you the answer. The answer is a series of 5 documentaries by my all time favorite documentarians, the Maysles Brothers. They used to be hard to come by but luckily this company Plexifilm (who also put out Space Is the Place) released them all in a dvd box set last year. (And guess what, the Christos receive no income from the DVD. They don’t make money off of these projects, that’s part of the deal.)
Even if you have no interest in art, I recommend these movies. They are so great because they are about conflicts and relationships between these goofy upper class European artists and the various average Americans they depend on to create their art. They make paintings and collages of their plans, then sell those to raise the money to actually build the project. The problem is, you can’t just go loop fabric around an island without getting permission first. So alot of the movies are mostly about the process of getting permission. They gotta go to all these meetings and plead their case with city council members, property owners, businesses, environmentalists, etc.
Sometimes these people have legitimate points, but usually they just don’t understand what’s going on.
Why should we spend our money on your art project?
No, you don’t understand, you’re not spending a penny on this. It’s my money.
But why should we spend our money on it?
No, I’m not asking you spend any money at all. No money whatsoever.
Also you get people standing up in meetings announcing “THAT IS NOT ART!” which is falling right into Christo’s sinister artist hands. He wants people to be discussing art and the definition of art. Suckers. RUNNING FENCE has an amazing stick-it-to-the-man moment where a woman stands up and explains how when she makes a meal for her family maybe nobody else considers it art, but she does, so if she wants to let Christo run a fence through her property then why don’t you stick it up your ass, bitches. (paraphrase)
CHRISTO’S VALLEY CURTAIN is one of my favorites because along with those kind of clashes it also has some good class conflicts between Christo and the working class construction workers he needs in order to put the thing up. These guys are literally risking their lives just to fulfill Christo’s weird vision, and Christo is so wrapped up in the project that he seems oblivious to it, running around like a maniac yelling “PULL! PULL!” into walkie talkies. One of the workers sits around complaining and talking about going out to drink afterwards. But when he sees the curtain unfold he completely changes, says it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. I thought he was gonna start crying. (You see that sort of reaction more than once in these movies.)
The one most relevant to today is Christo in Paris, because if I remember right it starts out with Christo and Jeanne-Claude working on various stalled projects, including the Central Park one. Since it’s the city of romance, this one is mostly a love story between Christo and Jeanne-Claude. But it has a great scene where Parisians stand on the wrapped Pont Neuf, debating its merits. Random strangers arguing about whether it’s a brilliant work of art or a crass waste of money. How often do you get to see that?
Because it’s the Maysles Brothers they use the DIRECT CINEMA style, just shooting what happens and not asking questions or interfering. Obviously they are good friends with the Christos and the movies paint them in a positive light, but because they are so real they are more objective than you might expect. The last one, Umbrellas, especially. This one is the Christos’ most beautiful and ambitious project, putting up fields of giant umbrellas in Japan and southern California at the same time. The movie leaves behind any questions of whether or not what they’re doing is art, and instead questions if they are in fact mocking God by decorating nature with man made fabrics and objects. God’s answer seems to be “shit yeah,” because freak windstorms hit both umbrella sites, killing an onlooker in California and a volunteer in Japan. Because of this it is somewhat unsettling to enjoy the beautiful shots of the umbrellas at the end. I don’t think it’s really fair but showing them enjoying the sight shortly after we find out about one of the deaths makes them come off pretty insensitive. And you really feel sorry for Jeanne-Claude because she has to deal with most of the drama and disaster while Christo gets to fly around on a helicopter enjoying the view. So you’re gonna come out of these movies understanding them more but not necessarily liking them. (that’s up to you.)
In conclusion: come on guys, I’m not saying you have to like what Christo is doing, but at least give him a fair shot. Watch these movies first, then come back and make fun of him sounding like you know your shit. I want to hear some specific references to his choice of fabric on the Running Fence or something. Maybe say the choice of pink on the Islands project was too Miami Vice. Just get your facts down before you attack. thank you for your consideration.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.