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Famed artist Christo to speak at Tampa Museum of Art Friday

Christo, the great wrap artist, is coming to the Tampa Museum of Art.

He and Jeanne-Claude, his late wife, are world-famous for monumental fabric installations that have temporarily redefined landscapes and landmarks around the world.

The Gates, which featured more than 7,500 gates hanging with about 60 miles of saffron-colored fabric winding through Central Park in 2005, received rave reviews from visitors and critics.

He's currently working on The Floating Piers, with 70,000 square meters of yellow fabric, carried by a modular dock system of 200,000 polyethylene cubes floating on the surface of Italian waters.

Alas, he won't be creating a new work while he's here. The visit is in conjunction with an exhibition at the museum featuring large-format photographs of their work, preliminary drawings and paintings of them and examples of pre-monumental art.

In his talk, Christo (born Christo Javacheff) will focus on new projects: The Floating Piers, Over the River in Colorado and The Mastaba in the United Arab Emirates.

To understand the immensity of the work — and not just in regards to its scale — you must understand the years, even decades between conception and reality. Not one is permanent; all are up for several weeks, at the most, and then disassembled.

Christo spoke with the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday from his New York studio.

Does the idea come before you find a site or do you choose a site and develop an idea for it?

It is both. We do both urban and rural sites. The urban ones usually begin with a site such as the Reichstag (a massive building in Berlin). In the countryside, it is opposite. The Floating Piers was conceived in the early 1970s for a site in Argentina. In the late 1990s, we tested the chances of doing it in Tokyo Bay. It didn't work out. In 2014, I said, "We need to find water." We were known in Italy for other projects there, so we are doing the piers in a lake in the north. It has a large island mountain in it. We are doing a floating pier around it. For 16 days, from June 18 to July 3, people will walk on water. We have projects that never work out but some stay in our hearts and minds.

So that's one of the reasons they take so long.

We thought of The Gates in Central Park in 1979 but were refused in 1981. Finally Mayor Bloomberg's organization approved it.

Do you have a preference for urban or rural?

No preference. Most of them involve water and earth together, the fluidity and stability.

I'm sure, with the critical and popular acclaim you receive, that you are offered sites all the time.

After The Gates, there were lines of people around the world wanting us to do it. We never do the same thing again.

You never accept sponsorships or donations, never charge admission, always self-fund the projects from sales of your preliminary drawings and collages, which now can cost millions of dollars.

Yes. We sell here (at his office and studio) to collectors, dealers, corporations. We work with banks to establish a cash flow.

Well-known artists are often copied by, or at least have a heavy influence on, other artists. I don't see that with you.

It's so expensive. With Over the River, we have already spent $14 million for something not yet built. This is not normal art. It has more similarities to architecture and urban planning. Right now we have a battery of engineers for The Floating Piers who are designing working on the anchors. Each one will weigh five to seven tons and be installed by divers.

You still get turned down for possible sites or even battle litigation from conservation groups once you get approval, even though I've never read of any negative environmental impact. Why do you think people still object?

One of the main objections is inconvenience. People in some places don't want a lot of visitors.

You're 80. If you were unable to complete one of the three projects, would they go forward?

Well, I would like to finish them myself but they are at the stage where they have been designed and planned and could be finished without me.

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

If You Go

Christo will deliver a lecture at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 W Gasparilla Plaza (near Ashley Drive at Polk Street). Advance tickets are required. $15 adults, $5 students and kids. Members are free but reservations are required. (813) 274-8130. tampamuseum.org.

Famed artist Christo to speak at Tampa Museum of Art Friday 11/18/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 5:47pm]
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