Jeanne-Claude: 1935-2009

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The Gates, New York City, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, 2005/photo: Lacayo

We got news this morning of the death of Jeanne-Claude, the artist and creative partner of Christo. They are of course the husband-and-wife team who wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin, ran a vast curtain fence for miles across the northern California landscape and created the completely enchanting New York City project called The Gates. She died yesterday of complications due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. She was 74.

Her full name was Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. The daughter of a French military officer stationed in Casablanca, she was born there on June 13, 1935. That happens also to be the birthdate of Christo, whom she met in Paris in 1958 when he was commissioned to a paint a portrait of her mother. Their collaborations began soon after.

Of all their far flung projects there was just one I got to experience personally, The Gates, but I was fascinated by it. (As a kind of farewell gesture I even managed to get myself attached for a day to the crews that were taking it down.) This is what I wrote a few years ago about their “strange power, the sheer enigmatic pageantry of The Gates….”

In their beckoning but impenetrable Other-ness, their aloofness from whatever meanings we would try to attach to them, The Gates always reminded me of that jar in the Wallace Stevens poem, the one that “did not give of bird or bush/like nothing else in Tennessee.”

By which I simply meant, I had never seen anything quite like them.

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