A Remembrance by Bill Kerr
I experienced the transformative scale and beauty of Christo’s wrapping of the Pont Neuf, which I crossed daily on my way to fall classes during my junior year abroad in Paris in 1985. While Parisians didn’t all agree on its artistic merit, it brought people together. Like so many others, I got off the metro one stop early just to cross the bridge. I left a little early each day not just to walk its expanse but to make time for the wonderful conversations that inevitably happened on the overlooks that were crowded in a way I’d never seen.
More than a decade later I was a student again, this time in Chicago for graduate school. In the hallways of my school, I saw a poster announcing an upcoming lecture by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. I excitedly told Weeks who was as eager as I to hear them. I told my program director of my admiration for their work and of my experiences on the Pont Neuf. He asked if I’d like to join them and a few others for brunch. Of course!
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were at ease with everyone. Professors and students shared stories of seeing their work whether from Germany to California. Both during the breakfast and later during the public lecture, Christo deftly guided the conversation away from his art and toward to the process of building consensus.
While many famous artists tell students to “pursue your dreams”, Christo didn’t say this, he showed us what he was doing. He showed early sketches from the late 1970s of the Gates project he envisioned for Central Park. He told stories of working with city administration, starting anew as elections changed those in power. He also explained how he worked with local residents, refuse workers and construction crews, getting them all to care and be invested in the work. He knew how to make things happen. In 2005 the 7503 gates became a stunning reality.
To this day I admire his work for its beauty, but what impacted me most was his dedication and determination. He was a true leader, bringing people together for the common good.