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Lesson Plans


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Kathy Talley-Jones (KTalleyJones)
Thu, 21 Nov 1996 08:23:14 -0800

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What follows is a discussion of Christo's work that took place on a
listserv that discusses the teaching of literature and the environment. It's
a somewhat interesting example of the kind of debate that goes on
around public art!

Tom: The "environmental artist" Christo has decided to install one of his
curtains along the Arkansas river 50 miles or so upstream from here. I'm
wondering if anyone can speak to, or direct me to, information both
explaining and analyzing his aesthetics from an ecological perspective
as well as discussing the ecological consequences of his installations.

Chas: Tom, I saw the same photo in the Canon City (Colo.) Daily Record.
Tell you this, if the curtain will be low enough to snag my backcast, I'm
agin' it.

What cracked me up was the comment from his wife/partner that they'd
leave the and "better than they found it." Considering some of that's BLM
wilderness study area now, just what do they plan to do, rip out U.S.
Highway 50 and restore the canyon wall?

Peter: I remember driving up and over Tejon Pass when Christo erected
100s of "umbrellas" there--in 90 or 91, I beleive. I was on my way from
the Bay Area to LA. The "umbrellas" had not yet been opened so it
looked like a lot of engineering rigs had been set up all over the oak
chapparal--we knew it was Christo's doing, but even so, the sight of all
these burlap shrouded posts standing throughout the hills was a bit
unsettling. After the long haul down the variously putrid (Modesto/Tracy
area), pesticided (the cotton fields), mucked-up (Coalinga), desertified
(Kern County) I-5 corridor, the Grapevine between the bottom of the San
Joaquin and the LA basin is usually a nice topographic and landscape
relief--steep chapparal, scattered oak knolls--before Magic Mountain and
the whole San Fernando experience. Instead, like wow! Christo was
putting on an industrial piece of art! We would be part of history on our
way back to SF (hint of irony here). As it happened, someone (at least
one person) was killed while trying to "open" one of the umbrellas during
a period of high winds. He or she died for Christo's art and, I beleive, the
project was basically cancelled after that, though I do think some people
were able to see a reduced version of his "Umbrellated Hillsides."
Perhaps the canyons and hillsides did not share Christo's grand vision
and when he proposed the umbrella strewn arid landscape, the
landscape said, "No!" That's an uncommon event, I'd say--though the
state called California thwarts human desires more than other places,
generally. Perhaps the state called Colorado will start getting a bit uppity,
too, and the same will happen on the Arkansas, this time with a 100 year

Walter: And what is the financial story? How do they finance those
mega-projects, and how much do they cost? (I've always wondered.)

Tom: Walter, after a brief surfing of the net for info on Christo, I found
that the projects are funded entirely by the sale of preliminary sketches,
related artwork, and pieces of the installation. So basically, artbuyers
fund the projects, which are self-sustaining.

Walter: I have heard that the projects are funded by the sale of Christo's
drawings, etc. but is this credible? The sale of drawings by Picasso or
Matisse say could bring in millions every few years, but is there really
that kind of Market for Christo's work? I recall trying to sell original
prints by famous contemporary artists such as Oldenburg,
Rauschenberg, and Rosenquist (through their own dealers and galleries)
for a peace project, and it took years to sell many of them. True, Christo
gave us a drawing too, and it sold right away at auction, but is he really
in the very, very select company of artists whose sketches and minor
work brings in millions? I find it enigmatic.

David: iF THERE IS A coherent statement in Christo's crusdae, it is to use
art to show that man can dominate and control the external environment.
His appropriation of natural artifacts into a human construct is his way of
letting nature know who is boss. And this is done not in an ironic way to
wake people up the similarity of his art to the process by which we have
raped the globe. Apparently, he is celebrating the way in which the
human can encompass and contain the natural.
THe man is a menace. His art is a menace.

Allan: I think a big part of Christo's art is the way in which he evokes
public response. There are always those who are offended, and getting
these monumental projects done by collaboration and compromise with
governments on all levels, local residents, and sponsors is as much part
of the project, as is the complex financing which makes them eventually
self-supporting. I see nothing in his work that indicates a desire to show
man _conquering_ nature. His work is quite varied, and makes a visual
impact during installation, while in place, and then the site regains its own
impact anew after renewal.

And there is great variety too, from the poetic majesty of the miles long
running curtain here in northern California, to the ambiguous political
comment of his wrapping the Reichstag, to the whimsey of the flamingo
pink skirts around islands in Biscayne Bay. When he responded to an
approach by an Arabian concern for a monument, he suggested a huge
truncated pyramid of oil drums in the desert. They saw the implications,
and dropped the idea

Having worked with artists a good deal, I say watch 'em every step of
the way, and when you are sure there is no damage to be done, step
back and enjoy. I saw a show of his drawings (quite nice,by the way)
and went to the museum men's room to find that someone had wrapped
one of the toilets completely in toilet paper. Funny, skillful, and annoying.
Just like Christo.

Kathy Talley-Jones
Manager of Publications
The Getty Education Institute for the Arts
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1683


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