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Big-time art deals

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 26, 2008 01:19 PM

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If you do what Christo and Jeanne-Claude do, you're going to have to talk to a public official or two.*

"Surrounded Islands" (Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1983)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are best-known for titanic-scale works including "The Gates," which triumphantly adorned New York's Central Park in 2005 (it was in the works for 26 years), and (bigger still) "Surrounded Islands," completed in 1983, in which several islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay were encircled with floating pink fabric.

Eight government entities, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the City of North Miami, had to sign off on "Surrounded Islands" alone. (It took the artists 10 years to persuade the city of Paris to let them wrap the Pont Neuf, another famous Christo project.)

It's this side of the duo's work -- the cajoling and the lobbying, the sheer tenacity -- that the ProjectProgram on Negotiation at Harvard Law School will be honoring next month, when it jointly gives Christo and Jeanne-Claude its 2008 Great Negotiator Award. Harvard faculty will lead a discussion between the artists and the public at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Tuesday, September 23, to mark the occasion.

How did Christo get the governor of Florida to set worries about hurricanes and the drug trade aside to consider the aesthetic ramifications of pink polypropylene fabric bought by the acre? Now you can ask.

(Christo's website, incidentally, features a marvelous "common errors" section. NB: The following sentence contains fully six mistakes, all identified if you follow this link: "Christo wrapped some islands in Florida, off the coast of Miami in Key Biscayne with pink plastic." And do not call them "conceptual artists." If I've made a mistake in this item, or you have another thought or tip, email me at brainiac.email@gmail.com.)

"Over the River," a project-in-progress from Christo and Jeanne-Claude, for the Arkansas River, in Colorado (Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2007)

*CORRECTION: This item originally said the two artists work jointly under the name Christo. That used to be the case, but they have worked as Christo and Jeanne-Claude (still no last names) since 1994.

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