All the other pieces in the gallery's front space refer to specific rivers in the West, including the Rio Grande in New Mexico and the Payette in Idaho. Mostly, though, the exhibit focuses on the Arkansas, which appears in twelve of the eighteen "Over the River" items. The most important of these are two large, horizontal diptychs, "Arkansas River (Ref. #7)" and "Arkansas River (Ref. #10)." In the top panel of each, a pair of photos sits next to an enlarged detail of a topographic map; in the bottom panel, a large drawing depicts the river.
These two pieces display Christo's influential aesthetic. His casual and expressive drawing style has been widely imitated, and today works like these are everywhere, as many artists combine maps, photos, drawings and handwritten text. But it was Christo who pioneered the approach.
In addition to the "Over the River" pieces, Robischon also features several works from an earlier, not-yet-built Christo effort: "The Gates," a proposal for New York City's Central Park. This piece will be made up of rectangular steel gates hung with yellow fabric that will be placed along 26 miles of footpaths in the park. According to the artists' statement, "The Gates" will take advantage of the organic design of the paths and the work will seem like a "golden river," serving as a contrast to "the geometric grid pattern of Manhattan."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been joined by another river-runner at Robischon--Mario Reis, a German artist known for submerging his canvases in actual rivers. Reis came up with the idea of getting his paintings wet in 1977, when, in an emotional snit, he threw a painting of the Seine into its namesake. When he retrieved the canvas, he found it covered with gray-green silt and realized he had captured the river in a way that he never could have by simply illustrating it. Since that time, Reis has embarked on an international effort to capture the color and character of the world's rivers. These "hydronomical self-portraits" consist of unstretched canvas panels to which the silt of the river has adhered. The resulting colors, though muted, range from expected pinks and browns to less expected tones like yellow and black.
And Reis isn't always content to let the rivers paint themselves. In his so-called intentional works, three of which are presented in Mario Reis: Nature Watercolors, he applies natural powdered elements such as salt and iron to the canvas himself.
Both the Reis display and the Christo/Jeanne-Claude show reflect the commitment of gallery co-directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Duran. These artists, after all, are working at the margins of the art world and, as a result, their pieces are surely difficult to sell. In the case of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the cost of the works is also well beyond the means of all but the wealthiest people in the city. But once again, Robischon--as it has so many times before--sees its first priority as making a cultural contribution. Call it a stream of conscience.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Works in Progress and Mario Reis: Nature Watercolors, through January 4 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 298-7788.