Christo’s Empty Sandbox

imagesEvery other week here in Colorado it seems there is news of Christo’s ongoing battle with opposition groups regarding the installation artist’s plan to drape six miles of the Arkansas River in translucent fabric. If given the green light, the installation will be in place for two weeks. But the process of making it happen has taken 21 years so far.

Christo loves to talk about how the endless protests and law suits involved in bringing his ambitious works to life are as much part of the artistic process as the end product. In an article for The Denver Post a few days ago, Christo is quoted as describing these battles as “invigorating.”

“We are not masochists, but we are enjoying the communication with so many varieties of people. Usually the art world is a small club of professionals.”

However, it turns out that the “communication” that Christo is interested in is rather one-sided.

At CPR, as mentioned in my last post about Dale Chihuly, I’m working on developing a segment entitled “Yes, But Is It Art?” The aim of the series is to cultivate a more holistic sense of how people perceive art than one usually gets from hearing or reading a single critic pontificating on a cultural topic.  My producer and I thought that the Christo debate might fit very well with our concept. The plan was to assemble a few experts including the artist, the lawyer who’s representing one of the main opposition groups, and an academic who specializes in studying large-scale landscape art installation projects.

The only trouble with the plan was Christo’s refusal to participate.

The artist was very happy to come in and do a solo interview. “Christo does not do group interviews, but would be happy to provide a one-on-one interview in the CPR studios,” an aide wrote to inform us.

We wrote back to explain that we weren’t interested in a one-on-one and that we wanted, rather, a group discussion in order to delve more deeply into the process Christo allegedly so prizes —  “the communication with so many varieties of people.”

But we were told no.

“As you know, discussion of the work (supportive and critical) is indeed part of the process and the art,” the aide wrote. “And, as the artist, Christo observes the dialogue but does not take part in it directly.”

It’s Christo’s prerogative to remain cool and aloof from the discussion, I suppose. But this attitude does seem disingenuous to me. The artist has created an amazing sandbox here. Why won’t he come play in it nicely with others?



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  1. MWnyc says

    Weren’t media debates like the one proposed here part of Jeanne-Claude’s half of the partnership?

    Betcha that if she were still alive, she’d happily take part in such a debate – and she’d have been formidable.

    There are some very smart and even gifted people who are simply not good at thinking on their feet or multi-party debate, and it may be that Christo is one of those people. (Jeanne-Claude was very good at it.)

    If such is the case, then Christo’s participation in a multi-party debate would set his cause back rather than helping it along, and declining the opportunity would be entirely sensible.

    I do miss Jeanne-Claude …