Persons of the Week: Christo and Jeanne-Claude

New York artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude -- who don't go by last names -- are about to unveil their latest, long-awaited, public, temporary work of art called The Gates.

"One gate is not a work of art. Two gates is not the work of art," said Christo. "The 7,500 gates in Central Park in New York City is a work of art."

The 16-foot gates snake for 23 miles through Central Park, the largest park in the city, and will be draped with saffron-colored fabric.

"The color, saffron we love that color, aesthetically," Jeanne-Claude said at a recent press conference. "It is not because of the color of my hair, even though it is Christo who chose the color of my hair."

The fabric will be unfurled Saturday morning and will billow in the wind for 16 days. Christo and Jeanne-Claude say the bare February landscape is the perfect setting.

25 Years in the Making

It is a project almost 25 years in the making. Christo and Jeanne-Claude proposed The Gates to New York City officials in 1981, but their request for a permit was rejected.

"The project was turned down," said Christo. "And so we do other things. I hope you understand we don't stay seated waiting."

Christo and Jeanne-Claude instead embarked on other projects, which included framing several small islands off the coast of Florida with bright pink fabric.

They wrapped the Pont Neuf bridge across the River Seine in Paris with more than 450,000 square feet of silky material.

The couple planted 3,000 blue and yellow umbrellas in Southern California and Japan and wrapped the entire German parliament building in Berlin.

In the early 1970s, they created the stunning Running Fence across 25 miles of Northern California.

Stroke of Luck

But they never gave up on The Gates, and four years ago, they had a stroke of luck.

"A miracle happened in our life," said Jeanne-Claude. "A friend and a fan was elected mayor of New York City -- Michael Bloomberg. That day, that night of the election, we knew we were going to get the permit."

Said Bloomberg: "The more I thought about it, I just kept in my mind saying, 'Wait a second, what's wrong with this? Every single thing we talk about is a benefit for the city and for the community. Let's do it.' "

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have self-financed every project through the sale of Christo's drawings, sketches and scale models of their projects. The two are very good business people, as well, asking several hundred thousand dollars for some of their artifacts.

"Nobody can buy this project," said Christo. "Nobody can own this project. Nobody can charge tickets for this project. Even we do not own this project."

The Gates project is said to cost at least $20 million. The city is excited, especially because Christo and Jeanne-Claude have donated $3 million to New York parks.

Team Effort

It used to be that Christo was the name and Jeanne-Claude the support team, but as a couple they have been together for 45 years. They met in Paris in 1958. Christo was struggling at the time, painting portraits.

They were born on the same day in 1935 -- he in Bulgaria, she in Morocco -- and they turn 70 in June, or as they say: "140 together."

It is hard to imagine one without the other.

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