Christo and Color
The state of the world feels heavy and bleak right now. When it seemed that things couldn’t get worse — with a raging pandemic and economic collapse — an unarmed, nonviolent American citizen, George Floyd, was brutally killed by a police officer. With these concerns foremost on my mind, writing about color felt like a shallow endeavor. Then on May 31, the artist Christo died. His passing made me think about his life’s work and the positive impact it has had on millions of people around the world.
In 1991, I had the unique pleasure to be one of the 960 workers who participated in the installation of 1760 golden umbrellas in the Grapevine Pass of Southern California. Teams of 10 people hoisted 448 pound, nearly 20-foot-high umbrellas in their bases and opened them on cue on a certain morning in October.
Christo and his management team ran the entire project perfectly. He paid everyone who participated in the project, he made sure that all of us workers departed the mountain by 1pm so that no one suffered from heat stroke, he recycled every material used in the project,
and he left the land better than he had found it. I felt then, as I do now, that if the world was run as well as Christo ran his projects, it would be a more efficient, healthier, more joyous and inspiring place to live.
Most of all, Christo wanted us to have fun. Our team leader would repeatedly say to us, “Remember ART is fun. As you participate in this project, make sure to have FUN.” And we did.
At sunrise, on October 9, 1991, our teams began opening the umbrellas. Christo carefully timed this moment so that the teams at the base of the mountain opened theirs first. This meant that those of us at the top of the mountain, (where my team was located), could witness the first umbrellas opening. Suddenly, a field of giant ‘sunflowers’ opened below us – a spectacular, stop-your-breath kind of beauty.
Working on Christo’s Umbrella Project was one of the finest experiences of my life. His inspired vision of the umbrellas, along with he and his collaborator wife Jeanne-Claude’s eight years of careful planning and persistence, made this astonishing, vast, ephemeral work of art a reality and available to anyone who cared to go see it.
In all of his projects, Christo wanted folks to go outside with their loved ones to see a kind of beauty that was audacious in its scale and a dazzling play of light and color. He sought to provoke our sense of wonder. Who could not be cheered and amazed by the sight of those massive canopies of gold dotting the mountainside?
In February of 2005, my husband Ray and I traveled to NYC to experience Christo’s The Gates project. 7,503 saffron-colored fabric “gates” had been installed along 23 miles of pathways in Central Park, creating a “golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees.” (christojeanneclaude.net)
Again, Christo’s inspired vision delighted and uplifted me. The mood of the park was festive - folks dove into the spirit of the event by festooning themselves in bright orange garments. Meeting fellow lovers of color and sharing our mutual ooos and ahhs over the gates was so much fun. In the dead cold of a New York winter, Christo had warmed us with his billowing saffron fabric and charmed us with the spirit of color camaraderie it provoked in us. I couldn’t get enough of this happy happening.
Christo made us think BIG about COLOR and LIGHT. His work elevated our spirits.
In these traumatic times, let’s embrace the spirit of Christo and be audacious with color. Let's allow color to fill us and transport us to higher places. And in those higher places, let’s create anew, something that lifts and inspires us all.