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Christo's Umbrellas

Christo (who uses only his first name) is an “environmental artist.” His large-scale projects have involved wrapping bridges and buildings, surrounding islands in Florida with pink floating plastic, filling New York’s Central Park with orange cloth “gates,” and building walls and structures out of oil barrels. Transience is an essential aspect of his art; after a few weeks he dismantles and recycles everything.

For two weeks in October 1991, Christo unfurled 1,760 large yellow umbrellas in a valley about 100 kilometers north of Los Angeles, near Gorman and the Tejon Pass. He simultaneously unfurled 1,340 blue umbrellas in a valley in Japan. Each umbrella was 6 meters high and 8.66 meters across, the size of a small house. Because a major freeway traverses the valley, many visitors could explore and interact with the umbrellas (or at least gawk while zooming by them).

Christo’s projects often incite controversy, particularly among those who question whether such works really are “art.” Nonetheless, the bright yellow umbrellas harmonized organically with the autumn-brown mountains and scrub vegetation, and complemented a brilliant blue sky.

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Picture of Christo's Umbrellas Photo of Christo's Umbrellas
Photograph of Christo's Umbrellas Image of Christo's Umbrellas

Unfortunately, the sky wasn’t always blue during those two weeks. An unexpected storm blew over several of the umbrellas. One of the falling umbrellas crushed a woman to death, leading Christo to end the project early. Ars longa, vita brevis.

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