the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
 

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

update 06/01/2020: yesterday on may 31, 2020, christo sadly passed away of natural causes at his home in new york city. you can read designboom’s full dedication to the bulgarian artist here.

 

the perez art museum exhibition tells the story of surrounded islands, installed in 1983 — 35 years ago — in miami’s biscayne bay through archival documentation, objects, drawings, models, and a film. for the striking pink installation that took place for just two weeks in may, christo and jeanne-claude encircled 11 islands in the bay with 6.5 million square feet of pink fabric. today, people can experience every detail of the artwork through a show curated by josy kraft with the assistance of lorenza giovanelli and jonathan henery, and coordinated at pérez art museum miami by PAMM’s curator rené morales. photographs and video are by wolfgang volz and designboom.

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

woven polypropylene fabric surrounding 11 islands, styrofoam, steel cables, and anchoring system, 6.5 million square feet of fabric overall

© christo 1983, image by wolfgang volz 

 

 

in december of 1980, christo and jeanne-claude visited miami for their first reconnaissance mission.beth dunlop, who wrote about architecture for the miami herald, drove us around miami and miami beach, back and forth across the causeways,’ christo recalls,and that’s when jeanne-claude thought of surrounding the islands in biscayne bay with fabric.’

 

christo and jeanne-claude were overcoming formidable logistical and governmental obstacles. after a meeting with then florida gov. bob graham and his cabinet, christo immediately agreed to rent the submerged lands around the 11 islands for $12,827.08, but as with christo and jeanne-claude’s previous art projects, surrounded islands was entirely financed by the artists, through the sale of preparatory drawings, collages, and early works. the artists do not accept sponsorship of any kind. christo, born christo vladimirov javacheff in gabrovo, bulgaria, describes himself as an ‘educated bulgarian marxist who has learned to use capitalism for his art.’ 

 

‘we sell an entire exhibition — like the exhibition at the perez art museum — to institutions and then we have money to built the art,’ christo told designboom in miami. ‘there was no way to build the floating piers in italy if we hadn’t sold the reichstag documentation.’

 

the exhibition is a narrative of empowerment, exemplifying the idea that lone individuals are capable of marshaling large civic forces to bring their dreams to fruition – that with determination, willpower, and compelling vision, anything is possible. approximately 50 drawings and collages, a large-scale model of the bay and its islands, hundreds of photographs and documents, several photomurals, and physical components of the project.

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

christo supports his work by selling preparatory drawings and collages

image by wolfgang volz 

 

 

in the early 1980s, the late museum administrator jan van der marck – then working on the 1984 opening of his center for the fine arts (CFA) in downtown miami – championed the project. the CFA became miami art museum and then pérez art museum miami (PAMM), now set in a herzog & de meuron building overlooking biscayne bay.

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

surrounded islands
pencil, fabric, pastel, charcoal, and wax crayon
© christo 1982

 

 

it’s no secret that the project was initially met with some concern from environmental and wildlife activists, residents, and other groups when it was first proposed in 1981-83. however, throughout the preparation, installation, and removal of the project, christo and jeanne-claude and their team worked closely with the US army corps of engineers and state and county regulators in order to ensure its safety to the environment and the local community.

 

video courtesy PAMM

 

 

the signature pink floating fabric was rigorously engineered to avoid damage to the environment. from november 1982 to april 1983, 6.5 million square feet (603,870 square meters) of the polypropylene fabric were fabricated at adolff factory in germany and sewn at a rented hialeah factory into 79 patterns to follow the contours of the 11 uninhabited manmade islands.

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

the PAMM exhibition, which occupies an entire upstairs gallery, opens with an enormous photo mural of the couple holding hands and walking along a sandbar between islands 9 and 10
image by wolfgang volz

 

 

permits were obtained from the following governmental agencies: the governor of florida and the cabinet; the dade county commission; the department of environmental regulation; the city of miami commission; the city of north miami; the village of miami shores; the u.s. army corps of engineers; the dade county department of environmental resources management.

 

‘for us, the process of getting permissions is very similar as those granted to build highways and bridges,’ continued christo. ‘it is a very complex process and we have to involve many entities like the city, an urban planner, decision makers… it’s like a negotiation.’ 

 

the outer edge of the floating fabric was attached to a 12 inch (30.5 centimeter) diameter octagonal boom, in sections, of the same color as the fabric. the boom was connected to the radial anchor lines which extended from the anchors at the island to the 610 specially made anchors, spaced at 50 foot (15.2 meter) intervals, 250 feet (76.2 meters) beyond the perimeter of each island, driven into the limestone at the bottom of the bay. earth anchors were driven into the land, near the foot of the trees, to secure the inland edge of the fabric, covering the surface of the beach and disappearing under the vegetation. the floating rafts of fabric and booms, varying from 12 to 22 feet (3.7 to 6.7 meters) in width and from 400 to 600 feet (122 to 183 meters) in length were towed through the bay to each island. there were eleven islands, but on two occasions, two islands were surrounded together as one configuration.

 

at the opa locka blimp hangar, the sewn sections were accordion folded to ease the unfurling on the water. prior to the installation, christo and jeanne-claude and their team cleared the neglected islands of decades of accumulated waste – about 40 tons of garbage, including abandoned home appliances and a boat. additionally, to ensure the preservation of biscayne bay, they donated $100,000 in original art to miami-dade county to establish the biscayne bay preservation fund.

 

how much goes into one of their installations, which rarely last for more than a few days or weeks, is examined in ‘christo and jeanne-claude: surrounded islands, biscayne bay, greater miami, florida, 1980–83 | a documentary exhibition’ at pérez art museum miami (PAMM). on view through february 17, 2019

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

getting pretty in pink

image by wolfgang volz

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM

surrounded islands was tended day and night by 120 monitors in inflatable boats

© christo 1983, image by wolfgang volz

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
christo and jeanne-claude: surrounding islands
exhibition view at the perez art museum in miami
image © designboom

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
christo and jeanne-claude: surrounding islands
exhibition view at the perez art museum in miami
image © designboom

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
christo and jeanne-claude: surrounding islands
exhibition view at the perez art museum in miami
image © designboom

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
christo and jeanne-claude: surrounding islands
exhibition view at the perez art museum in miami
image © designboom

the story behind christo and jeanne-claude's surrounded islands in miami at PAMM
christo and jeanne-claude: surrounding islands
exhibition view at the perez art museum in miami
image © designboom

 

 

designboom met christo at the Q&A event in taschen’s store in miami during art week 2018, see the video above.

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