It's hard to think of a more influential force in the development of Miami's art scene than the duo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. In the early 1980s, when the city was wracked by drug wars and police corruption, the artist couple chose Biscayne Bay as the backdrop for a new large-scale installation, Surrounded Islands. For nearly two weeks in May 1983, they wrapped 11 islands in the bay in pink polypropylene fabric, creating a vibrant mix of colors that left an impression on all who saw it. Surrounded Islands was the young city's first major exposure to the world of contemporary art; from there sprung Art Basel Miami Beach and the dozen or so museums and private collections that helped establish Miami's artistic community.
Pérez Art Museum Miami looked back on the installation in its exhibition "Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980–83," which ran from October 2018 through this past February. The show documented the piece's conception, planning, and execution in meticulous detail: Everything from the permitting, environmental studies, and other bureaucratic matters to the army of volunteers recruited to set up the piece was laid out for museum visitors to marvel at and appreciate. Models, drawings, dozens of photographs from throughout the process, and even a sheet of the pink fabric used in the piece were included as well. PAMM even brought Christo to Miami for a public lecture. (Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009.)
As it turns out, that exhibition was only the beginning of PAMM's relationship with the artists. The museum has now been given 16 of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's major works by board member Maria Bechily and her husband Scott Hodes, a lawyer who worked with the couple in the past. The pieces, which document the pair's career from the '60s through the present day, lend PAMM the distinction of possessing the fourth-largest collection of works by the artists in the United States.
"We have more or less a representation of all of Christo's major projects now," says Franklin Sirmans, director of PAMM.
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Sirmans says the donated objects include “collages, works on paper, drawings, the heart of what Christo does in relation to all of his major projects." Traditionally, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed their projects independently by selling these drawings, which are remarkable works of art in and of themselves.
Because installations such as Surrounded Islands are on view only for weeks or days at a time, the drawings form a document of the pieces once they are removed from display. Some of the installations documented include Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Packed from 1968 and Wrapped Reichstag from 1981. Several three-dimensional pieces from early in Christo's career are also included.
Though Jeanne-Claude was instrumental to Christo as a partner in art and in life, the now-84-year-old has kept busy since her passing. His recent solo projects include The Floating Piers, a group of orange walkways allowing visitors to stroll across Lake Iseo in Italy, and The London Mastaba, a massive geometric structure made of oil drums installed on the Serpentine in London. His next project: wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for two weeks next April, an undertaking that'll no doubt sit comfortably within the artist's larger legacy of inventive sights and visual feats.