Christo and Jeanne-Claude—the artists whose notable projects include “The Gates,” Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005—received the Great Negotiator Award from HLS’s Program on Negotiation.
At an award ceremony at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston on Sept. 23, the artists were recognized for their ability to negotiate the installation of their large-scale works of art around the globe. The award, given annually by the law school’s Program on Negotiation, has historically gone to figures in business and international diplomacy.
“We give the award to negotiators who have, repeatedly over time, daunted barriers to agreement in ways that were fruitful, and in ways that created value,” said Professor Robert Mnookin ’68, chair of the Program on Negotiation. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude have overcome many barriers in terms of their achievements over the years.”
For the Gates project, the artists installed 7,503 saffron curtained gates on pathways in New York City’s Central Park in 2005. Although the project was initially proposed in 1979, it took more than two decades for the project to come to fruition. Other projects have included “The Umbrellas,” a 1991 project that covered valleys near Tokyo and Los Angeles with thousands of blue and yellow umbrellas, and “Surrounded Islands,” a 1983 installation in which several islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay were encircled with 585,000 square meters of floating pink polypropylene fabric.
At a faculty-led discussion, the artists presented a slide presentation of their work and reviewed how they successfully negotiated with governments, neighborhood groups, business interests and others to create large-scale works of art around the globe. While Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been successful in several cases, some communities have not always openly embraced their artwork.
“Running Fence,” one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s earlier projects, featured an 18-foot-high curtained fence running 24 miles through northern California. The artists discussed the extensive negotiating they were required to do before the project became a reality, including meetings with countless federal and local governmental officials. They also had to obtain individual agreements from 59 cattle ranchers whose land would be occupied by the fence.
“I remember I made a few boo-boos the first few days,” Jeanne-Claude said of her experience meeting with the ranchers. “I would knock on the door at a reasonable time, like 7:30 or 8 p.m., and I would wake up the whole house.”
Jeanne-Claude said she eventually prevailed because she and the ranchers came to respect each other. “The government would never have given us a chance, except that the ranchers said, ‘I have the right to have that fence on my land,’” she said.
In another well-known project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the German Reichstag with 1,076,000 square feet of fabric. In order to obtain the permits required for the project, the artists met with 352 individual members of parliament and worked with six different presidents of the Bundestag over the course of nearly three decades.
“The process [of obtaining permission] sometimes makes the work much more important,” said Christo, referring to the media attention and iconic identity that the projects gained from each prolonged effort to obtain approval.
They are currently working on a project titled “Over The River”—a six-mile-long stretch of fabric panels suspended horizontally over the Arkansas River, which will be completed in the summer of 2012 at the earliest.
Past award recipients of PON’s Great Negotiator Award include Bruce Wasserstein ’70, chairman and CEO of Lazard; former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata; and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.