While assembling the motorcycles for historic ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, curator Ultan Guilfoyle reached out to to historians and collectors around the world for historic and beautiful motorcycles. Such a collection, spanning 150 years of motorcycle history, had never been assembled before, and word did get around among the moto-cognoscenti, and occasionally Ultan was contacted by individuals offering unique machines. One of those individuals was Jeanne-Claude, the wrap-artist with her husband Christo, who create large-scale wrapped landscape works. The pair had always created smaller, salable artworks as well, and fund their enormous projects by the sale of prints and scraps of material used in their sculptures.
I recently interviewed Ultan Guilfoyle about the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit, and he recounted this gem about the famous sculpting duo:
“One day I got a call from Jean-Claude, ‘Is this the Walton Gulfooly fellow?’
Yes, I said.
‘This is Jean-Claude, I hear you are having an exhibit of motorcycles. We have a Vespa.’
Very interesting: what year is it?
Fantastic, that’s a really early one. Where is it, and what color is it?
‘I don’t know what color. It’s in my living room, come look at it.’
So I stopped by their studio in NYC, and their assistant let me in: the Vespa was covered in cloth! I asked the assistant if I could peek in – I was trying to sort what color! Of course she said no. I spoke to Jeanne-Claude on the phone while I was there, and suggested we needed to unwrap their Vespa for the exhibit.
‘How dare you! You insult the history of our work! This is a very important piece!’
She called Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim, who punted and said ‘anything Ultan wants to do is okay’. Jeanne-Claude called back, and I repeated that we’d love to have their Vespa, but we’d have to unwrap it.
‘You are an outrage!’ and she slammed down the phone.
The Guggenheim was thinking about doing an exhibit of their work, and I next saw them during their Central Park exhibit, the gates, and introduced myself. Jeanne-Claude said, ‘You’re not that motorcycle guy are you! You’re a disgrace!”