Remembering Christo

Christo — the one-named artist who constructed thousands of gates in Central Park, strung a curtain across a Colorado mountain pass, and wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin — died Sunday in New York. He was 84.

He also had several connections with Westport. Ann Chernow — long active in our local arts scene — writes:

My husband Burt Chernow and I met Christo in 1970. We traveled the world with him, his wife Jeanne-Claude and his crew for each project — an army of engineers, reporters, cooks and many artists from Westport.

Burt and I worked in various capacities on 6 major projects, including The Valley  Curtain, The Running Fence, Pont Neuf in Paris, The Umbrellas in Japan and California, and the wrapping of the Reichstag (the last Burt worked on before he died). Our bedroom in Berlin, across from the Reichstag, was Joseph Goebbels’ during World War II.

During these decades Burt worked on the only authorized biography of the Christos. Christo and Jeanne-Claude was published in 1999, first in Germany and then in the US and other countries. It would take another book to write the stories of our travels with them.

When I met Martin West — a documentarian working on the history of art in Westport, the year after Burt’s death — he was brought into Christo’s fold. He filmed for them, and we both worked  on the Gates in New York City.

We became  part of their family. Christo’s death last week — not long after Martin’s this past January — was a staggering blow to me, as was Burt’s in 1997.

WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff took a number of photos of Christo. This was
his last one, at Christo’s final Westport Arts Center exhibition.

Westport played a large part in our relationship.  The Christos had 4 Westport exhibitions, with lectures about their work accompanying each show. One was at Greens Farms Elementary School, when it served as the Westport Arts Center. Another was at the WAC after it moved to Riverside Avenue. The others were at Bedford Middle School and the Westport Library.

These exhibitions were thronged, filled to capacity beyond the fire laws. The Christos visited Westport  several times to prepare for these, and loved this town.

We had dinners  at our house with Christo’s family, and local supporters. Helen Klisser During — a former director of the Westport Arts Center — became a fast friend of the Christos.

Many Westporters remember Christo personally. Many others admired his work. We will all miss him.

5 responses to “Remembering Christo

  1. A.David Wunsch

    Thanks, this is fascinating .
    ADW Staples 1956

  2. Eva Rosenblatt

    Thank you Ann for helping to bring Christo & Jean Claude to Westport. I remember, vividly, attending his lecture/ presentation at Bedford prior to the Gates.
    How lucky you are to have cherished memories of time spent with them.
    Eva

  3. Eva Rosenblatt

    Thank you Ann for helping to bring Christo & Jean Claude to Westport. I remember, vividly, attending his lecture/ presentation at Bedford prior to the Gates.
    How lucky you are to have cherished memories of time spent with them.
    Eva

  4. When I first read of Christo’s passing my immediate thought was of Ann and what a blow it must have been, particularly in light of her dear Martin’s sudden death in January. She is in our thoughts.

    One of my most vivid (literally and figuratively) memories of Burt Chernow was when I stopped to grab a coffee at Oscars on the way to work one morning. There he was at one of the tables outside, dressed head-to-toe in pink….pink shoes, pink socks, pink suit, pink flower, pink shirt, pink tie and a pink fedora. I was used to seeing Burt in equally bright, but multi-colored dashikis, but I felt compelled to ask why the change of wardrobe. It turned out he was grabbing a coffee before heading to the airport for a trip to Florida to be with Christo for the launch of his project of wrapping of the islands in Biscayne Bay in pink.

    I remember thinking that I was certain I could claim to be the only guy working at IBM that day who shared a coffee that morning with a friend dressed totally in pink.

    • Peter Gambaccini

      The man who taught me art at Greens Farms School becomes the official biographer of the man whose project The Gates reached to within 200 yards of my current home near Central Park. Who’d a thunk it? I still remember watching Burt Chernow interview Stevan Dohanos on closed circuit TV at Greens Farms so we could see how that then new technology worked; the two of them were in the same buiidling as us, maybe 100 feet away. Here in NYC, I still consider The Gates to have been perhaps the greatest artistic celebration I’ve seen in my time here, and my most positive memory of former Mayor Bloomberg is watching that straitlaced businessman/politician completely got a kick out of Cristo and Jean Claude, as he fought against doubters to get The Gates put up.

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