Friday, February 25, 2005

A Christo in Your Home

“Yes but, how do you have a Christo in your house?” As enchanted as I am with the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, I have to admit the question made me pause. It's true that the ephemeral quality of much conceptual art means that we experience the art via its documentation. It becomes, in the words of my friend Marie, only “memories of memories of memories.” I was not even born at the time of the Valley Curtain installation, yet the artwork lives on in blueprints and documentary to the extent that I feel as if I, too, witnessed the piece (though my “recollection” is dim and, well, false).

Christo's work operates with a vast public scope, imprinting on the memories of so many people in so many different and lasting ways. Scale, not originality, is admittedly one of the most compelling components of his work. Take New York City's The Gates, for example: neither the form (simple post and lintel), color (that bright "saffron"), nor number (hundreds scattered over miles) are in and of themselves original, but The Gates is undeniably a contemporary artwork, commenting on--and causing comment within--the contemporary world. Art--and music--in the home (a much reduced scale) should similarly excite one to question and enthuse; just because it is in the home, it should not be complacent. Does your personal space reflect a current modern aesthetic, or is it a lazy reflection of the status quo, a pretty comfort? Isn't it a little funny that we "go out" (to concert halls or museums) for what I might call "challenging art," while privately we surround ourselves with pleasant pictures or banal chamber music?

Music, like art, follows trends from the concrete to the conceptual and back again, and also like art, contemporary music suffers from the polarization between public and private venue. How do you have a John Cage Musicircus in your living room? While the social salon may see its share of wet ink and new music premieres, that situation rarely offers more than mediocre background music with the performers as furniture, unobtrusive in their utilitarianism. I wonder if, historically, the home ever seemed the appropriate place for cutting edge ideas. Or has the old-fashioned patronage system, with musicians and composers making a livelihood performing in elite homes to select audiences, simply morphed into the current "scene" of galleries and clubs, where bookers, curators, and producers represent (hold up for show) the artist?

The idea of venue, how it affects what we choose to see or hear, is a vast and flexible topic. Art and music on the personal, small-scale level can strive towards the grandeur--aesthetically, conceptually--of museums and concert halls and demand, even when we're curled into our favorite cozy chairs, the heightened perceptivity and attentiveness we bring to the museum's hardwood bench. I may not have a Christo in my home, but I like to think that the home could stage a piece with as much simplicity, collectivity, and thought-provoking oomph. I do not always want to seek outwards for aesthetic inspiration or frame it in the formalities of a particular venue, but I still want live art, live performance, and live music.

Perhaps that is why I find Christo's work so compelling; it posits itself between the home and the venue...literally and figuratively.


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