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  • Traditionally, artists made small, lovely things. They laboured to render a few square

  • inches of canvas utterly perfect or to chisel a single bit of stone into its most expressive

  • form.

  • Traditionally the most common size for art was between three and six feet across.

  • And while artists were articulating their visions across such expanses, the large scale

  • projects were given over wholesale to governments and private developerswho generally operated

  • with much lower ambitions. Governments and the free market made big ugly things rather

  • often. A145-00196 We're so familiar with this divergence that we tend not to think

  • about it at all. We regard this polarisation as if it was an inevitable fact of nature,

  • rather than what it really is – a cultural failing.

  • It is because of this failing that the artists

  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude (collectively known as Christo) stand out as quite so important.

  • Christo points the way to a new kind of art and a new kind of public life. Christo have

  • been the artists most ambitious about challenging the idea that artists should work on a tiny

  • easeland keenest to produce work on a vast industrial scale. Other artists have

  • experimented more widely and addressed us more intimately. What's distinctive and

  • important about Christo is that they want to make art that can fill the sort of expanses

  • previously associated with airports, motorways, supermarkets, light industry zones, marshalling

  • yards, factories and technology parks. Christo and Jeanne-Claude started exploring the effect

  • of having an impact on quite big things, around 1968, when they draped a medieval Italian

  • tower.

  • The idea was pushed much further when they wrapped a whole bit of coastline in Australia.

  • image12 Next they slung an enormous orange curtain across a valley in Colorado. image01

  • Then they got around to surrounding some islands off the coast of Florida with 6.5 million

  • square feet of floating pink fabric.

  • They then wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris. And in 1991, in a simultaneously project,

  • installed thousands of umbrellas for forty miles along two valleys, one in the US and

  • one in Japan.

  • In 1995, they carried out a monumental project in Berlin. They veiled the German

  • Reichstag, which was the traditional seat of national authority and also the focus on

  • intensely painful memories because of its association with the rise of the Nazi party.

  • And then they spectacularly unwrapped it in an act of national renewal. Christo has gone

  • far beyond even traditional architecture, the standard next step up from art: they occupy

  • a space normally occupied by city planners or civil engineers constructing a container

  • port or landscape architects laying out parkland around a town. Christo can look very innovative,

  • but in a way their conception of art is deeply traditional. What they mean by art is making

  • beautiful things. They might be wrapping things or surrounding them, or marking routes with

  • flags and banners, but what guides them is the search to make the world more beautiful.

  • Only not just a little bit at a time. The scale of their efforts to make the world beautiful

  • has been stupendousand inspiring.

  • Perhaps the biggest thing Christo has done,

  • however, is to indicate a direction of travel, which doesn't stop with the great things

  • they themselves happen to have done. One key move is not to stop with imagining something

  • wonderful but to work out how to make the imagined thing come real. Rather than picture

  • a revitalised central Park, they revitalised it. Rather than imagine Germany renewing its

  • feelings about its historic centre of government, they made it happen. The ideal task of the

  • artist isn't just to dream of a better world, or complain about current failures (though

  • both are honourable); rather it is to actually make the world finer and more elegant.

  • The primary identity of Christo is an artist. But to operate realistically on a large scale,

  • they needed to deploy many of the skills traditionally associated with business and which we think

  • of as the domain of the entrepreneur.

  • Christo had to negotiate with city councils and governments; they had to draw up business

  • plans, arrange large scale finance, employ the talents and time of hundreds even thousands

  • of people and all

  • the while, they held on to the high ambitions associated with being an artist.

  • The way they made money was fascinating: they financed a project by selling

  • the plans and drawings for it. It was like Plato financing a new state by selling copies

  • of the Republic (except, unlike Plato, Christo made their utopia happen).

  • Christo is showing us that ideally artists should

  • absorb the best qualities of business. Rather than seeing such qualities as opposed to what

  • they stand for artists, following Christo's lead, should see these as great enabling capacities,

  • which help them fulfil their beautifying mission to the world. In the future, an artist might

  • spend as much time being trained by the Wharton School of Business or INSEAD as by the Royal

  • College of Art. Christo has never got to build an airport or a supermarket or lay out a new

  • citybut the ideal next version of them will.

  • Our book what is culture for? Helps us find compassion, hope and perspective in the arts

Traditionally, artists made small, lovely things. They laboured to render a few square

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    Summer posted on 2020/10/28
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