The column of lasting insignificance   Ojai Orange   blog   Books   Marijuana   Press   Archives   Contact

the column of lasting insignificance...
—for April 18, 2015 by John Wilcock

from the archives…

Many working partnerships, both in the art scene and outside it, don’t apportion the credit in what might be termed an equal manner. Is it just coincidence that the woman, however much she might contribute in support and inspiration, is the one who is most often short-changed? This is definitely not the case with that inventive team, Christo and Jeanne-Claude who, for the three decades I have known them, have shared twin credit for every one of the superb art works they have produced.

The best proof of what I am talking about can be seen in the movie by the Maysles brothers of the project in which the artists wrapped the Le Pont Neuf, a bridge across the River Seine in Paris. It may be the best film explaining how artists work that has ever been made.

First, Christo and Jeanne-Claude rented window space in a shop near to the bridge and filled it, for the edification of passers-by, with drawings and text explaining the artwork-to-be. Next came the really hard part: a seemingly endless series of face-to-face negotiations with the various bureaucrats whose job it was to monitor, approve or deny permission for such schemes. This was mostly Jeanne-Claude’s task. She’s a skilled and tireless negotiator who speaks fluent French.

All this, like almost every one of the pair’s ventures, stretched out over months, often years. When The Gates arrived, the hauntingly beautiful saffron curtains that billowed throughout New York’s Central Park, it had been a work-in-progress for twenty years. Continually turned down by dour and unimaginative parks commissioners, it was released in 2005 when a friendly and admiring Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave his assent. More than 800,000 visitors—six times the usual number--filed through the park, and as many as 90,000 additional tourists came to town in the two weeks the work was up. 

Then it was dismantled, the elements recycled and all traces of its presence removed. Like all Christo works—the Umbrellas in California, the 18ft high Running Fence along the coast, the Surrounded Islands of Biscayne Bay, the projects in Japan, in Germany, in Australia, an incomplete list—it had a pre-ordained ending. Workers were paid to erect it, paid to dismantle it, everything recycled, nothing remained in situ.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude exemplify everything about artists that I most admire. They visualize something beautiful that will give pleasure to those who see it. They plan to manifest their dream no matter how long it takes, no matter what it costs. Their patience is inexhaustible, their determination absolute. The very obstacles and setbacks that stand in the way of the dream are an integral part of the art itself.  And, as it doesn’t cost anybody a cent to see it, how is it paid for? Millions of dollars are needed.

And again, what the artists do is commendable. Eschewing grants, they sell no portion of the work or any ancillary souvenir products: no engraved trinkets, no mugs, no caps emblazoned with their work or their names. They finance everything themselves, a task that has become easier with every successive venture due to the huge sums dealers, collectors, admirers are willing to pay for preliminary studies, collages, drawings, pictures, videos, films, postcards, all an integral part and parcel of the work. A substantial collection of earlier work is also available.

Born the same day (June 13, 1935) in different countries, they have lived at the same lower Manhattan address since 1964 when they emigrated to the U.S. And because they have undertaken projects in so many countries, they have since become possibly the most widely-known artists in the world.

The artists in Berlin, 1995
Wolfgang Volz photos

Le Pont-Neuf , Paris, 1985

My respect for them has grown because they are so uncompromising in what they do, and although ambiguity is as intrinsic to art as misdirection is to magic, there is nothing hazy about Christo undertakings. The temporary nature of their projects, they explain, is an aesthetic decision, in order to endow the works of art with the feeling of urgency to be seen, and the tenderness brought by the fact that they will not last. “Those feelings are usually reserved for other temporary things” says Jeanne-Claude, “in our own lives, things that are valued because we know they will not last”

A FEW YEARS BACK when I devoted a cover story to their still-stalled Central Park work, The Gates, we talked about one of the things that irks them about media coverage. To begin with, it’s become a kind of headline shortage to refer to something Christo has ‘wrapped’, such as Key Biscayne.

Over the River, Arkansas
(projected for 2012)

Jeanne-Claude: “(We) never wrapped any islands (we) surrounded the islands. Most journalists do not understand the difference between ‘wrapping’ and ‘surrounding’ even though they should know that England is surrounded by water, it is not wrapped in water…. The nylon fabric of the Running Fence could not be used for parachutes—God forbid that anyone would jump with that kind of fabric.

Volunteers? NEVER—on any project Everyone (except J-C’s mother) who works is paid: normal wages for specialized professional workers, and just above minimum wage for non-skilled workers.”

As publishing a full-scale tabloid became less and less commercially viable, I began my newsletter Nomad, a four-page newsletter mailed worldwide In January 1973 noting how many backpackers were on the road, Nomad offered  tips on living rough, sleeping on beaches or in graveyards and earning money using primitive folk craft talents: macramé or stringing beads. We met one man at a bar on a Greek beach making his living costs selling simple necklaces he made on the spot. His only ingredients: horseshoe nails, wire, pliers and leather thongs -- all kept in an old tobacco can.


Nomad Letterhead

We noted the best places to get used camper buses and how to obtain student cards (even if you weren't a student). We reported on nude beaches and Greek cheese pies; overland tours to Nepal and living on a houseboat in Amsterdam; the best days to cross the border from Spain into Morocco without being stranded in the Sahara and what you needed for a 28-day tour of all South America. John Giorno wrote about his stay in a Buddhist monastery in India and Lillian Roxon offered guidance on successful hitchhiking Down Under.

Best of all, from a subscriber's point of view, was that we offered impressive-looking free Nomad press cards, "good for what you can get away with". And in some of the world's remoter outposts, our readers gleefully reported, you could get away with an awful lot.

—excerpt from Chapter 12 of Manhattan Memories, an Autobiography by John Wilcock available on amazon.com


Read my blog at Crowdsourcing survival.

National Weed (1974, issue #3)

it's here...
Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World


Email this link to a friend

Sign-up to receive this column weekly by email

send a comment to John Wilcock


recent columns...

- Complete column archives: 2006 - present

The real, true, history...
Week of May 5, 2018

Alice, Alice at 85, seed money, supermax, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of April 28, 2018

About being in love..., Persoff and Marshall, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of April 21, 2018

The Candy Store
Week of January 20, 2018

From the archives... The religion of Violence & Statistics, otherwise known as college football; WPA II; Would it be called Indiastan or Pakindia?; Who you Gonna call? Crime Predictors; Being a Bank means you never having to say you're sorry; Oil vs. Democracy, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of December 9, 2017

From the archives... The Mother of All Family Feuds, Otaku Means Geek in Japanese, Affirmative Action or 'It all depends on who you know', The Moonies are packin', and of course, the Wilcock Web......
Week of December 2, 2017

Taxing land, not people, Is Socialism Scary?, Stars acting as assholes, Big Thinkers can be such Morons, and of course, The Wilcock Web...
Week of November 18, 2017

Dear Reader,
Week of August 23, 2017

Dear Readers...
Week of January 25, 2017

John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
Week of June 8, 2016

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
Week of April 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
Week of April 16, 2016

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
Week of April 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen--Travels: Tokyo-Rick Kennedy recalls; Japan on $5 a Day; About Chapbooks; Magic in South America
Week of April 9, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen (continued)--Theory & Practice of Travel Writing; Remoteness of Callanish; Jim's Paris dinners
Week of April 2, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus; Regarding armchair travelers; Pisa's Leaning Tower; The magical Alhambra
Week of March 26, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library; In the Cannes
Week of March 19, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Week of March 12, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
Week of March 5, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 27, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
Week of February 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
Week of February 6, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
Week of January 30, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
Week of January 23, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve--Andy Gets Shot: Max's Kansas City; Jane Fonda's gesture; Christo & Jeanne-Claude
Week of January 16, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven (continued)-- We go to Rutgers, Ann Arbor ... What people say about Andy
Week of January 9, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven -- Andy Warhol First encounter....People talk about him....His movies...
Week of January 2, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten (continued)--The 'Movement' splits: Eldridge Cleaver Year of the Great Hoax…The OZ trial
Week of December 26, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten--Tom Forcade's smuggling funds High Times; Rolling Stone's underground sabotage
Week of December 19, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
Week of December 12, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
Week of December 5, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon; The Shinjuku Sutra
Week of November 28, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
Week of November 21, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven (continued)--The Underground Press; Army revolt:  fragging officers; Bowart goes to Millbrook
Week of November 14, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven--The singing Tit-o-Gram; The East Village Other; Art & Forgery; Birth of Black Power; The Underground Press
Week of November 7, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
Week of October 31, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
Week of October 24, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness (continued)--Jan and Stan change my life; The man who turned on the world
Week of October 17, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness--The man who turned on the world; Tested by Harvard professors; Jan and Stan change my life
Week of October 10, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
Week of October 3, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--More Working at The New York Times; Mexico On $5 a Day; What Richard Condon taught me; Henry Miller's wise words
Week of September 26, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO  and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
Week of September 19, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--More trouble with our star novelist; Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column; Jean Shepherd’s phantom novel
Week of September 12, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
Week of September 5, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Gilbert Seldes' The Lively Arts; Norman Mailer’s Voice column; Giving parties to meet strangers
Week of August 29, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
Week of August 22, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Jack Kent Cooke tells me to stay in Canada; Becoming a New Yorker ;A new Village newspaper; The casual wisdom of Steve Allen
Week of August 15, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
Week of August 8, 2015

- column archives: 2006 - present

in the press...

Now on Boing-Boing!
February 12, 2015

The New York Years - Issue 3 The New York Years
October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money
nytimes.com: Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I'd received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I'd never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

(read more)

A Guide to Occult Britain

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner