Monday, March 18, 2013

Christo's Big Air Package

Christo unveiling Big Air Package

Christo, the world famous environmental artist, unveiled his latest large-scale installation work "Big Air Package" last Friday.  It is the largest indoor sculpture ever erected.  It will be on display at the Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany from March 16 to December 30, 2013. 
Big Air Package: on top, inside and concept drawing 
The sculpture is made from 20,350 square meters of semitransparent polyester fabric and 4,500 meters of rope.  Encased inside a 117 meter high industrial complex (Gasometer), the inflated balloon-like piece has a total weight of 5.3 tons and a volume of 177,000 cubic meters.
Erecting Big Air Package
The balloon fills the enclosed space of the Gasometer, leaving a small passage around the sculpture to walk around in.  Air fans create a constant pressure of 0.27 millbar to keep the sculture inflated, with airlocks at the base to allow guests to come in and experience the art piece from the inside.  Light coming in from the skylights on top and 60 additional projectors create an otherworldly atmosphere and ambiance for the visitors.
At the opening of Big Air Package, March 15, 2013
Acting like a gigantic tent diffuser, the viewer is transported into an experience with pure light.  In Christo's own words, "you are virtually swimming in light when you are inside the Big Air Package... the inner space is probably the most unique aspect of the piece...when experienced from the inside, the space is almost like a 90 meter high cathedral."

Christo and Jeanne-Claude infront of Running Fence
It is the first project Christo has completed after the death of Jeanne-Claude, his wife, life-partner and artistic collaborator, in 2009.  Born on the exact same day on the exact same year, June 13, 1935 (Christo in Bulgaria and Jeanne-Claude in Morocco), Christo and Jeanne-Claude were real soul mates.  They met in Paris in 1958 and had collaborated on all of Christo's environmental projects from the very beginning.  While Christo conceptualized and planned, Jeanne-Claude raised the funds and organized the work crews to erect the massive installation pieces.  The works were just credited to "Christo" until 1994, but the outdoor works and large installations were retroactively credited to "Christo and Jeanne-Claude" after that.  They loved each other so much that they would take separate planes when they travelled, so as to preserve the life of the other in case one plane crashed.  The spiritual and "cathedral" like quality of the light-filled Big Air Package, to me, is a wonderful tribute to the soulful life Christo shared with Jeanne-Claude.
The Umbrellas on California Intersate 5 when I saw them
I have been aware of Christo's work from books, even when I was still a teenager.  But I finally experience it by accident in October 1991.  I just broke-up with a girlfriend and I was really depressed.  Desperately needing some company (to share my misery), I decided to drive to San Francisco to visit my brother. I took the I-5 and was pleasantly surprised by hundreds of yellow umbrellas mushrooming on the hillside inbetween LA and San Francisco.  It was near sundown when I encountered this surreal sight and it immediately lifted my spirits.  I stopped in the middle of this umbrella field, and was stunned by the sheer majesty of the sight and vision of its perpetrator.  There where no signs or welcome tents anywhere to indicate why they were there and for what purpose, so I assumed that it must be a marketing or promotional gimmick of some sort.  Christo's name popped in my head, but I had no way of confirming it until I saw it in the News later that evening in San Francisco.  But that encounter created such an impression on me, that I became an ardent believer in the power of environmental art.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude's art is the best of its kind.  It is massive in scope, but impermanent at the same time.  Confronted with it (for you really have to be there to experience its power), you cannot help but contemplate the impermanence of life, particularly with respect to the human realm and our impact on the rest of existence.  I have loved Christo and Jeanne-Claude's vision and art eversince that day I was arrested by their yellow umbrellas -- it is awe inspiring and spiritually uplifting, despite their claim that their works do not have any deeper meaning other than their immediate aesthetic impact.  It is precisely what it is, no more no less.  Yet it stirs our emotions and our imaginations to the point of awakening -- awakening into our deepest selves.
For more information on Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their works, go to
Here are some of my favorite works from Christo and Jeanne-Claude (concept and actual):
Wrapped Stairway, Floors and Walls  Museum Wurth, Kunzelsau, Germany 1994-95
Wrapped Floor and Stairway  Piazzo Bricherasio, Turin, Italy 1998-99
The Wall  Gasometer Oberhausen, Germany 1998-99
42,390 Cubic Feet Package  Kassel, Germany 1967-68
Wrapped Coast  Little Bay, Sydney, Australia 1968-69
Wrapped Monuments  Milano, Italy
Valley Curtain  Rifle, Colorado 1970-72
The Wall  Via Veneto and Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy 1973-74
Running Fence  Sonoma/Marin Counties, California 1972-76

Surrounded Islands  Biscayne Bay, Florida 1980-83

Pont Neuf Wrapped  Paris 1975-85

The Umbrellas  California 1984-91
The Umbrellas  Prefecture of Ibaraki, Japan 1984-91

Wrapped Reichstag  West Berlin, Germany 1971-95

Wrapped Trees  Riechen, Switzerland 1997-98

The Gates  New York City 1979-05
--all photos taken from                

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