In The Gallery – or not

November 14, 2011

And then you get an artist says he doesn’t want to paint at all
He takes an empty canvas and sticks it on the wall

                                                                                               – Dire Straights, In the Gallery                                                      

I have heard that anyone who makes art discovers relatively quickly that audiences, as well as the muses themselves, can be very fickle.

Take a look at this photo…

Is this art?

Someone thought it was, buying it last week for 4 million dollars, the most money ever paid for a photograph. So, who am I to judge. Either as to what is art, or what people should do with their money.

While the photo was made outdoors, it was brought inside to exhibit.

Christo is the kind of artist who has a different perspective.

He designs his art indoors, and then exhibits it outside. Not just big art. Environmental Art.

And he doesn’t back down from a challenge. That challenge is not just about whether what he does is art or how work as expensive as his can be justified in this time of economic suffering, etc.

His art has actually killed people.  Accidentally, of course, but the victims are dead just the same.

Christo typically invests huge sums of money and time planning and executing fantastical artworks outside in nature for brief periods of time. Sometimes they are in very public places – such as The Gates in Central Park, New York City.

Others, like his newest project, will be in much more remote locations. Called Over The River, the project will put almost 6 miles of fabric above the 42 mile Arkansas River in southern Colorado.

Not only does he design his art – but he needs to get permits permissions and variances – usually from scores of different governmental regulators, private property owners and local, regional and national political bodies. It takes incredible negotation skills, patience, and an unshakeable vision.

He has been working like this for 50 years now.

I met Christo and his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, and interviewed him in the hills outside of Los Angeles as his Umbrellas project was being mounted back in the early 1990’s.

That project involved designing and siting 3,100 umbrellas in California and Japan. It was quite controversial at the time, as all his projects are. There were 1,770 of these – gold colored – up and down the mountains in the Tejon Pass, on public and private land.  And they looked beautiful, especially in the bright light of sunrise or the fading light of sunset. Here are two of them.

The interview, below was shot, by LA news videographer – Andy Weintraub – when we both worked at KCAL-TV. KCAL allowed me to wander the Southland and interview a wide variety of interesting characters and let them tell their own stories in their own words.  Here is part of my interview with Christo.

Christo found joy in and respected the lengthy process leading up to the installation. He does not detest the bureaucracy, and doesn’t fight it.  Part of the art is figuring out the way to interact. The common ground. He says it is like going to a school each time he executes a work.

Does art need to be permanent or can it be temporary, like a sand mandala? Does it need to hang on a wall or be exhibited inside a museum? Is the process of making as much art as the thing itself?

Yes, Yes, Yes.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie November 14, 2011

I remember when you interviewed Christo. Did you mean to have a video of the interview? It didn’t come up on my viewing of the article? Love your writing!!!

viewser November 14, 2011

Thanks Les – you know, when I saw Christo was up to his old tricks, with yet another massive undertaking happening in the not too distant future – even without his wife and partner – having lost her to a brain aneurysm two years ago – I was moved to try to dig up that old interview and see what he said about the creative process. I love that he never hated the bureaucracy, at least publicly, but found the art in dealing with that as well. It was all part of the process. And yes, there should be an interview in the essay.

Harold Davis November 19, 2011

Nice photo, gourgeous print, insane price. Something for me to aspire to. 🙂

viewser November 19, 2011

I think your photos offer so much more, Harold. Honestly.

Harold Davis November 19, 2011

Appreciate the thought, and I’m not saying I disagree. As to the marketing, it’s well known that this is a different issue than making art—look at van Gogh or Edward Weston, both of whom were impoverished in their lifetimes. Sometimes the talent of being an artist is orthoganal from the talent of being able to market one’s work—although in an artist like Christo some degree of originality meets a great degree of marketing talent and the ruthlessness to succeed. Great blog story btw.

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