33 interview rent interpretations over time! You said you were protesting against consumer society, denouncing a France cut in half or, quite simply, if I may say so, simply doing an installation in a public space. When you come from a totalitarian country, making a living by drawing realistic portraits that you sell to whoever wants to buy or order them, you quickly realize that there’s something else to do. My father was a chemical industrialist and was imprisoned. Our life was horrible and we were persecuted. Before arriving in Vienna, I went to Prague, where some of my relatives lived. The regime was less harsh there than in Bulgaria, but nothing, for me, matched my idea of Paris. In Vienna I obviously didn’t speak the language. The United Nations helped me obtain a temporary visa for France, where I disembarked at the time of the Algiers putsch in 1958 (1) – I arrived in the city that to me represented everything possible. So when I saw the tanks on the streets, I was scared and I thought it was the same everywhere. Then I met JeanneClaude, whose father was a general. Together, all our lives, we always wanted to escape ... Why did you leave Paris and choose New York? You know how New York exerted a fantastic attraction on artists of my generation. And Jeanne-Claude and I didn’t feel like we came from a specific country. We were and have remained in a way “citizens of the world”, as we said then with Garry Davis (2). From Gabrovo (3), where I was born, to New York, where I was landing, I felt like I was overcoming all obstacles. My parents were always on the run, my mother fled Macedonia in 1913. Our house served as a refuge during WWII for friends and artists during the Allied bombings. I had taken with me the memory of the partisans executed on the streets and the arrival of the Red Army in Bulgaria in 1944. My father had been imprisoned by the new communist regime for “sabotage”. And, as the regime wanted to force me to become an official artist, I could only seek to move further and further away from it and probably leave “old Europe”.The United States was an El Dorado, and even though I had been around the New Realists in Paris and found accomplices there, nothing seemed more vast and open to us than New York. I don't know if it was a challenge! We wanted to create a public intervention that would testify to our revolt against the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The council had refused us authorization, and we then decided to carry out this intervention during the night. It was June 27, 1962 and we blocked the street for eight hours by making a wall of 240 barrels, 4.3 metres high.The police took us away, but didn’t press charges. No matter. We did it! The message had been sent, and Jeanne-Claude and I decided to start again! I’ve always wondered what prompted you and Jeanne-Claude to constantly challenge institutions and public space. I had nothing. I left Communist Bulgaria at the age of 21. I loved art and architecture, and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. There you study all disciplines and then specialize. I wanted to leave Eastern Europe, go further west, where a certain idea of freedom attracted me. But freedom’s an empty word if you don’t challenge it! And Jeanne-Claude and I have always enjoyed challenging it! However, in Paris, you exhibit your work. Your first wrapped objects and your tied packages meet a certain public, and informed collectors, like Durand-Ruel, as well as galleries like Galleria Apollinaire, in Milan, which have contributed to your fame. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that these household objects were only going to be the intermediate phase that would lead In Paris, where you arrived in 1958 after a stay in Vienna, the first of the challenges What was the meaning of this intervention? You and Jeanne-Claude have given diffe-
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