Public Art and what I Learned from Christo and Jean-Claude

I must admit that through the years of owning a gallery I always got energized when I would install a piece in some space that was accessible to the public. I never paid much attention to my feelings about it until I began to see the gallery installations [exhibits] in the same light. I would take various elements and assemble them into a unified whole that became a greater work of art. I then anticipated the public to come in and experience what I had put together and for me this is where the magic exists. Unconsciously it was a form of public art to me. I have claimed that I can take any object and make it look like a valuable work of art and I hold that conviction. I know it’s true. Give me exceptional work and the ingredients are there for something special. Give me a great space and we now have extraordinary.

Back when the ‘Gates’ project was being planned for Central Park I went to visit Christo and Jean Claude. I loved his drawings, collages and was interested in exhibiting them in the gallery so I ventured to SOHO not knowing what to expect or what would be expected of me. It was an eye opening experience for me that at the time had no idea how it would become a reference point for what I was really interested in which was transforming spaces with art. In other words installation combined with place.

Jean Claude quickly indoctrinated me into how the whole process worked. She was ordering Christo around like an indentured servant to which we thought was humorous. ‘Christo go get the such and such and show them that piece!’ ‘As he comes back with it she quips’ I was thinking about the other one, go get that one and leave this one here for now.’ Christo’s comment was ‘I am just a studio hand as you can see’ with a big smile on his face.

When it got down to business it was a completely different way of dealing art than I had been familiar with and they were the masters of it. A little background on the‘Gates’ project first. They did a nice book on the Gates which they had given me that documented it beginning to end. It was first proposed as a public installation in the 1970’s, 25 years earlier. It never got anywhere because of many things but there were public meetings and it became an idea that was proposed and waiting. Eventually it was approved and executed as envisioned as we all now know.

When we were there they talked about the complexities of doing something like this but one critical element was maintaining artistic independence. They would accept no corporate or governmental support.  They felt this would influence the integrity of the installation and that was central to their mission as artists. So I found their funding process very interesting. Christo would  begin doing preliminary work depicting an unrealized project somewhere in the world. Over a period of time as they were gaining all of the approvals and getting the project finalized he would then end all work related to this specific project. The pieces that were completed in the early stages you would be able to acquire for very reasonable prices in the early stages of the proposal. As the pieces were coming to an end and the project was ready to be realized those prices would be quite substantial as there would be no more once the project happened.

They created a mechanism to self fund, maintain creative independence, meet all safety requirements and support their projects fully with the necessary crew. In the case of the Gates you could apply to be part of the team and they would pay an above minimum wage to compensate everyone. I found it all ingenious and a different way of making art work at a high level. So here I find myself unconsciously interested in a similar artform, transforming non- traditional places with compelling ideas and works. While I have installed work in public spaces the Wisdom House event encapsulates the idea of sharing pure creativity and place. On one hand it is an experiment in creativity. In my mind it takes art out of a predictable context, being the gallery or studio. and then does two things. It organizes itself as a whole then combines with the spirit of place. The implied meaning of the space with the placement of multiple artistic elements is the potential magic. Just like Christo has done but different. There is precedent for a Wisdom House event but it must also be different. I love the feeling of being on the edge. Will it crash and burn or will it be a moving and memorable occurrence as it is meant to be. Art with risk. What more can we do as artists to make magic happen? Please check the links below to keep connected to the project and please share on Facebook or where ever you have a strong presence.

Wisdom House Details

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