WINNER: The findings from studies by some psychologists show that when people feel profoundly moved by a work of art, they have a mixture of positive and negative emotions. They never just feel positive emotions. It always has something to do with sadness, or shock — fear — as well as the pleasure in the beauty. Something that is considered to be a truly happy work of art, or purely happy piece of poetry, is typically considered to be less moving. It’s also usually considered less great. So where does that leave us with Christo — what are the positive and negative emotions? Well, as I mentioned, there’s certainly a feeling of the scale and that’s a positive emotion. In terms of the negative emotion, I can’t say for sure, but one guess might be there could be some kind of negative feeling associated with taking a beautiful piece of architecture and covering it up.
GAZETTE: In “How Art Works,” you wrote that “people see more in abstract art than they think they see,” and that they can see “the mind behind the work.” Do you think this is happening with the Arc de Triomphe?
WINNER: This is a work of conceptual art, and all art, but especially conceptual art, prompts us to think about the mind of the artist. We can’t help but wonder why Christo did this, what he was trying to make us think and feel. One really cannot understand conceptual art without knowing what the artists say they are doing. Take a rather extreme example: Ai Weiwei’s installation “Straight” is made out of 150 steel bars that had been mangled in an earthquake that killed thousands of children in a school building made of substandard cement. Ai Weiwei straightened the rods and laid them on the ground as a commemoration and a protest. There is no way to make sense of this work without knowing the context.
GAZETTE: Do you like Christo’s work?
WINNER: I find it quite awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen any of it in person, only in photos and videos. I think seeing the Arc de Triomphe in person must be overwhelming — a bit like looking at the pyramids because of the enormity of the scale and effort.
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