As monumental, evanescent projects involving the collaboration of hundreds and designed for a mass audience, the art of husband-and-wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude finds a close parallel in cinema. Early on, filmmakers began documenting the duo’s transformations of man-made and natural landscapes, recording works that, apart from Christo’s preparatory drawings, would otherwise exist only in memory and imagination. Now, as Manhattanites brace themselves for The Gates, the couple’s saffron-colored incursion into Central Park (on view beginning February 12), the Museum of Modern Art is hosting a nine-film retrospective offering a taste of what’s in store for New York.
“Every artist does the work for himself first,” Jeanne-Claude declares in Dem Deutschen Volke (1996), by Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, which records the decades of planning and negotiation that led to the artists’ wrapping of Berlin’s Reichstag in silver fabric. Christo himself fled Communist Bulgaria for Paris in 1958. The Reichstag, symbolic of Germany’s tragic past and stranded for nearly half a century between East and West, had long attracted him, and the fall of the Berlin Wall brought the plan renewed urgency. But the film is most engaging during the long march toward realization; it can’t seem to wring much meaning from the work’s admittedly spectacular culmination.
Cinephiles may find more to admire in a set of whimsical documentaries by the brothers Albert and David Maysles and various collaborators, on projects ranging from the hanging of an orange curtain across a Colorado valley (1972) to the 1985 swaddling of Paris’s Pont Neuf in silky beige fabric, like a grande dame swathed in Dior. That last film, Christo in Paris, also provides an occasion for the artists to reflect upon their long romance.