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Is Bigger Beautiful? The Rise Of XXL Art

Wider, higher, heavier: A taste for oversized art is spreading around the world, among artists, collectors and the public (at large).

Bernar Venet's "Arcs" in Versailles
Bernar Venet's "Arcs" in Versailles
Roxana Azimi

PARIS — Bernar Venet has big ideas, very big ideas. On July 12, he inaugurated a foundation for his monumental sculptures, notably the impressive 150-ton Effondrement ("Collapse") in Le Muy, in southeastern France.

Venet was also commissioned in 2011 to do an installation of two 72-foot arcs at the Place d’Armes in Versailles. Like the artists Richard Serra or Mark di Suvero, Venet likes art that’s a bit unhinged. “We want to go beyond," he says. "There’s something heroic in it."

The appeal of excess is not new. Just have a look at the large canvases in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The collections at France's Modern Art Museum are teeming with pumped-up works, of which around 20 are deployed in Phares (Lighthouses) at the new Georges Pompidou museum in the northeastern city of Metz.

For a long time, public institutions were typically the only option for this kind of oversized art, but as their budgets shrink, private alternatives are stepping in.

The vice president of the auction house Artcurial, Francis Briest says that “XXL” pieces act as both a spatial and a social marker. “Collectors are now building their houses according to their works,” he notes.

Cyrille Troubetzkoy, coordinator of “Sevres Outdoors” sales exhibition of monumental sculptures, explains that such works have the advantage of often being more "readable" than smaller works. “Outdoor works are the only ones that allow for immediate, spontaneous and uninhibited contact," he says.

The French gallery owner Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, who in 2015 will open a sculpture garden of large pieces in Le Muy, this taste for the colossal comes from wealthy Americans such as the late Raymond Nasher, whose sculpture center in Dallas is a benchmark.

But it is also spreading around the world, including at the Inhotim Art Center of Brazilian art collector Bernardo Paz, or the expansive fields of Alan Gibbs in New Zealand.

In France, a turning point came 20 years ago, when Florence Cathiard, owner of Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte in Gironde, installed in her vineyard a sculpture of a hare by Barry Flanagan (1949-2001). The response from the public was enthusiastic.

Size, space, vanity

“There were traffic jams on our little road,” says Cathiard. “And we thought we were going to place two or three more pieces on the land.” But since 2002, it’s no longer two but 10 pieces by artists ranging from Wang Du to Jean Dupuy that punctuate the landscape. Others around France have followed.

The effect on the art market is real. The “Art-Unlimited” section of Art Basel, which launched in 1999, helped accelerate the trend. “At first, we had to convince the galleries to participate,” says Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel. “They considered the presence of ‘Art Unlimited’ more of as a marketing stunt. But things have changed.”

Sotheby’s has earned a reputation for the sale of huge sculptures in Florida, and in Chatworth, U.K. since 2007. It’s a lucrative operation because, according to Sotheby’s curator Simon Stock, more than half of the works find buyers.

These colossal pieces certainly come at a cost, but strangely at a smaller cost than some “domestic-sized” art. “The artist knows that they can’t ask the same margin for these monumental pieces,” says Mitterrand.

Still, transport can cost up to $25,000 — and engineering requirements for installation and maintenance can add to that figure. There are constraints that naturally add to the transaction time.

Then there is the question of acquiring or hosting works made explicitly as part of exhibitions.

“It’s hard to find good conditions to re-install them,” says Aude Bodet, head of collections at the National Center for Visual Arts (CNAP) in the Hauts-de-Seine outside of Paris, which has some 200 extra large pieces. A sculpture by Ugo Rondinone, produced by CNAP in 2009 and exhibited at Centquatre in Paris as part of the Fall Festival failed to land at the Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy, which had to retract their offer because they were unable to fit it.

Does this mean that we should imagine a museum constructed explicitly to house large pieces, as former French Culture Minister Jack Lang suggested in the June 26th issue of Le Monde? Maybe not, because size is neither a genre nor a subject.

“Can size really characterize a work?” asks Bernard Blistene, director of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. “What are the similarities between Respirare l’Ombra by Giuseppe Penone — a room lined with leaves protected by a fence — and a huge sculpture by Frank Stella?”

Not much except for the size.

The exhibition “Extra-Large” at the 2012 Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, devoted to large artworks of the Centre Georges Pompidou, demonstrated the limits of a purely formal exercise, forgetting several important factors including scale and space, and the place of the viewer. When such criteria are neglected, the monumental works are reduced to something akin to the vanity of a well-sculpted bodybuilder.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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