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Culture

New York Art Project Made in Germany

Ever since they shrouded Berlin's Reichstag, most Germans know artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Germany plays a role in their latest work in New York too, this time weaving and stitching their trademark fabric.

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The sea of saffron that will adorn Central Park

Der verhüllte Reichstag

The wrapped Reichstag building in Berlin

A decade ago, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created a sensation when they swaddled the German Reichstag or parliament building in shimmering silver fabric for two weeks in a statement of Berlin's Cold War east-west political divide.

As the artist duo prepare for their latest art installation in New York -- setting up 7,500 gates hung with panels of saffron-colored fabric in Central Park -- Germany is once again involved. Few know that much of the handiwork for "The Gates," as the New York art installation is called, was done across the Atlantic in small workshops in sleepy German towns.

And, as if in a continuing vein of the artists' Reichstag project, Germany's once divided halves are in it together: a manufacturing company in Taucha near Leipzig in eastern Germany and a weaving mill in the town of Emsdette, near Münster in western Germany, have labored separately to ensure that "The Gates" opens as scheduled on Feb. 12.

Special commission

Christo und Jeanne-Claude in Hamburg

U.S. artists Christo, right, and Jeanne-Claude

Both companies have worked for the Bulgarian-born Christo and his French wife and co-artist Jeanne-Claude before. There's little doubt that the high-profile New York project is a further feather in their cap.

Klaus Schirmer, head of production at the Schilden company, which wove the sturdy sheets of polyamide imprinted with an intricate honeycomb design in saffron yellow for "The Gates," said it wasn't a routine commission.

"It is definitely special. It's probably not everyday that one can associate art with a technical weaving mill. Thus this whole Christo thing is really special and of course very, very important to us," Schirmer told Deutsche Welle during the manufacturing stage last year.

Christo reportedly paid the weaving mill around €400,000 ($524,000) for 100,000 square meters of polyamide textile, the normal price according to the company.

Prestige

For the tiny sewing workshop in Taucha, which belonged to the Communist East German government and has now been bought over by the Swiss Bieri Group, the Christo commission brought welcome relief to its workers.

Bieri Zeltaplan näht für das Christo-Projekt in New York

Bieri Zeltaplan GmbH in Taucha sews for Christo's "The Gates"

"It's a nice change," Susann Reihe, who has been stitching together the fabric panels for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's New York artwork for the past year in Taucha, told German broadcaster WDR. "We normally do protective weather-proof covers for cars, party-tents and the like, that demands a whole lot of painstaking work," Reihe said. "This is really lovely in contrast."

Christo's project manager Wolfgang Volz said that the Taucha-based Bieri Zeltaplan company had already proven its skills and quality during the Reichstag wrapping project.

"At the time we had a really good experience with them," Volz told WDR. "That's why we approached them again."

Roland Eilenberger, head of Bieri Zeltaplan is clear that the commission has also brought the company much prestige in their line of work.

"Naturally, you can't market such a project in the same way that you would perhaps bring out a luxurious product on the market," Eilenberger said. "But, overall, in the textile industry it's pretty unique to able to work and complete such a mammoth project."

The company shipped off the last of the fabric panels to New York last November.

Gigantic artworks

"The Gates" is just the latest in a string of gigantic public art pieces that the conceptual artists are known for, most of which have involved wrapping swathes of fabric around massive objects.

Reichtag in Berlin mit Christo und Frau

Christo and Jeanne-Claude with a model of the "wrapped Reichstag" from 1995

Among their more memorable projects, was a hanging of a curtain between two peaks in a Colorado valley, wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris, embellishing several islands off Florida with tutus, the wrapping of the Reichstag and opening 3,100 umbrellas in Japan and California.

"The Gates," which like most of the artist duo's works is monumental but temporary, will consist of five-meter-high gates placed at intervals of about 3.5 meters along 37 kilometers of footpaths throughout New York's Central Park. The saffron-colored fabric panels will be suspended from each gate, falling to two meters above the ground.

The installation is designed to pay tribute to the park's half-planned topography as well as to evoke the structure of the surrounding city blocks.

As with most of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects, the fabric is central to the installation. This time the saffron color is meant to symbolize a park in full bloom.

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