‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude’ on display at Biggs Museum

DOVER — The latest exhibitions to open at downtown Dover’s Biggs Museum of American Art uphold that the process of making an art object is as important, and sometimes even more important, than the object that gets made.

Almost everyone has, at one time or another, been deeply impressed with the skill and technique many artists and artisans demonstrate when making memorable work, such as carvers, painters and musicians. This process of making, that unique experience for each art work, is truly hypnotizing. These processes, the experiences behind a finished work of art, is what is on view at the Biggs Museum right now.

“Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection” is the museum’s premier feature exhibition from now until Oct. 22. The show covers much of the careers of these partners in art as well as in marriage from the early 1960s to the present.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are responsible for some of the most internationally important large-scale sculpture projects of the last 100 years and the show at the Biggs describes the details of how they were created.

“Running Fence” (1972-76) is among the artists’ best-known works and considered by the Smithsonian to be one of the top 10 most important artworks of the 20th century. It was an 18-foot-high silver textile wall that shimmered across more than 20 miles of the California countryside. This temporary installation lasted only 14 days and received world-wide attention for its massive scale, simple beauty and powerful symbolism.

While all their works are temporary, the process of making “Running Fence” was extremely involved and took years to plan.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude enlisted an army of thousands of people: engineers, textile manufacturers, construction workers, seamstresses, student volunteers and private landowners to name a few. Additionally, the artists had to pass an extensive permitting process with local governments, all the while accelerating an intense public anticipation.

The exhibition at the Biggs records the artists’ process of making over a dozen large-scale installations like “Running Fence,” “The Umbrellas” (1984-91) and more locally “The Gates” (1979-2005) project in New York City with their own original drawings, plans, commemorative artworks and photographs.

Even though some of their massive projects cost more than $20 million, Christo and Jeanne-Claude paid for each installation themselves by selling the small artworks of the type on view at the Biggs. Likewise, the process of making one of their installations could take decades of planning with no guarantee of success.

The concept-based artworks that Christo and Jeanne-Claude helped to revolutionize have had a local influence among Delaware’s most gifted visual artists. Opening with “Christo and Jeanne-Claude” is the Biggs Museum’s annual “Award Winners” exhibition.

Featuring literary, performance and visual artworks by winners of the state’s own Delaware Division of the Arts fellowship winners, a vitally important support of the local art scene, the exhibition features several conceptual artworks by artists like Troy Richards, Chad States and Jennifer Borders.

The former University of Delaware art professor, Mr. Richards, has created his own plottable painting machine that interprets images that the artist programs into original works of art — at this time, flowers. Mr. Richards’ work tests our ideas of what is authentic and who is responsible for artworks made, in some portion, by machines and other tools.

Photographer and sculptor, Mr. States, painted 42 casts of his own head in bright candy colors and arranged them in piles on the floor, challenging viewers to think about the positive and negative aspects of their own lives.

Finally, Mr. Borders created an interactive display of symbols of her father’s immigration to the United States in which visitors are encouraged to leave their own stories about how they came to live were they are. These stories will get used in a new project in the future.

These two exhibitions are accompanied by a packed calendar of activities for adults, children and families.

Visit www.biggsmuseum.org for a full schedule of events. The Biggs Museum of American Art is at 406 Federal St.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Grover is curator of the Biggs Museum.

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