Artist raises umbrellas in soggy Japan, sunny California


October 10, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO — Between two typhoons, the rain stopped just long enough yesterday for the artist Christo to put up his umbrellas.

Taking advantage of what he called a "brief window of opportunity" -- hours after one typhoon let up and before another blew in packing more days of rain -- Christo worked with construction crews and teams of elderly and teen-age volunteers at dawn to open 1,340 gigantic, royal-blue umbrellas along a 12-mile stretch of the Sato River valley, 75 miles north of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture.

Then he dashed off for a trans-Pacific flight to take advantage of the time difference and -- on the same date, Oct. 9 -- open 1,760 equally huge yellow umbrellas at Tejon Pass on Interstate 5 near Los Angeles. [See article on page 3F.]

Christo, who has said his $26 million project is about "comparing and contrasting" Japan and California, celebrated rather than lamented the weeklong rainfall that delayed the opening by a day.

"It's fine with the nice weather over in California, and here, we have the humidity and the green," he told hundreds of farm-country Japanese who came out to puzzle over the unfathomable goings-on they had seen building up since the late 1980s.

The opening of the 28-foot-wide, 20-foot-high umbrellas was the culmination of seven years the artist has spent persuading scores of country Japanese to let him use their fields, satisfying government demands with wind-tunnel tests of his umbrellas against 100 mph gusts, and building structures in the Sato River to hold the hundreds of umbrellas that rise above the stream's waters.

Crews wearing hip boots waded into the rain-swollen river NTC yesterday to raise those umbrellas.

The project is by far the most ambitious yet attempted by the 56-year-old, Bulgaria-born New York artist, whose full name is Christo Javacheff.

He has won attention and provoked controversy with previous projects that wrapped the Pont Neuf bridge across the Seine River in the heart of Paris in beige cloth and put miles of pink "skirts" around Florida islands.

Not only wetness and dryness but also the vast openness of the California landscape and the intense cultivation of Japan's countryside, where farmers' houses seldom occupy as many square feet as one of his umbrellas, are part of the contrast Christo has said he hopes to emphasize.

He has suggested that the two parts of the project be understood by comparing their contrasts with those between the fast and slow movements of a symphony.

To that end, he assembled a total of 1.6 million parts from 11 manufacturers for his two-continent umbrella show, raising all the funds from sales of limited editions of drawings and other preparatory paraphernalia, as he also did for his past undertakings. He says resorting to sponsors to raise the money would "compromise" the works of art.

Like his past efforts, the umbrella displays are self-consciously temporary, scheduled to be dismantled after three weeks to demonstrate that he has what he calls "the courage of self-effacement."

He calls his projects "transitory works of art" and titled this one "The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and U.S.A."

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