Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On far flung readers (cont.)

Dobar den! Or less formally, Zdravei.

Or, hello to my reader(s) in Bulgaria. Seeing that country come up on the readership statistics for this blog rang a bell in the far reaches of my brain somewhere. So I checked on the internet, and my vague memory turned out to be correct: Christo, one of the most famous, some might say notorious, artists of the late twentieth century was born in Bulgaria.
Christo, 'Wrapped Reichstag', 1995
He left for the west when he was in his twenties and studying in Prague. Before he met Jeanne-Claude in Paris in 1958 and began the lifelong collaboration with her, he painted portraits to make a living. I thought it would be fun to try and track down one of these pictures on the internet, but so far I've had no luck. Maybe I didn't search long enough, but I wonder also if Christo destroyed his early work once he started getting known for wrapping things up. Many well-known artists have these dark pasts, or a line of work which completely contradicts what we think of as their signature style -- compare Mondrian's 'Broadway Boogie Woogie' with the boring pictures of flowers he also painted in private -- and perhaps Christo wanted no trace of his past to be considered as part of his legacy.

Bulgaria seems to have had a strange history during the twentieth century, flirting with authoritarian monarchy and republicanism before coming under the Soviet sphere of influence after World War II. My feeling is that Christo's work was somewhat influenced by his coming to maturity in the early Zhivkov years. Zhivkov seems to have created a milder version of Stalinist autocracy, but nevertheless it is telling that Christo's artistic urges all tended towards muffling, concealing, and hiding symbols of power: man-made power when he wrapped up the Reichstag in Berlin, and the power of nature when he wrapped islands and coastlines. These pieces were at once impressive and somehow futile, as if he and Jeanne-Claude were trying to enlarge the grand gestures of monumental art, making them bigger than anything that had been done before, yet also showing the limits of art that tries to shout loudly in public. I think that's why The Gates in Central Park resonated so much with New Yorkers: it seemed to be built more quietly and on a human scale.

My final thought is that for decades Christo described himself as a 'stateless person' before he became a US citizen. But that he was born in Bulgaria and made his art all around the planet shows that, like people in England becoming great jazz musicians, or people in China becoming superb interpreters of Mozart and Beethoven, there are as few geographical boundaries to art as there are mental boundaries to its creation.
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