Maezawa, who made his fortune as the founder of Zozotown, Japan’s largest online fashion mall, is a longtime art lover who purchased a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for a whopping $110 million last year, the sixth-most-expensive work ever sold at Sotheby’s auction house.
Maezawa said he would choose the lucky passengers from a pool of painters, photographers, musicians, film directors, fashion designers, and architects from around the world. It’s not clear whether he will solicit proposals, as typical artist residencies do, and he may already have a few participants in mind. And it doesn’t seem like Maezawa expects the chosen artists to produce work that is directly related to the historic journey, but rather to let the experience inform their creative process.
Meet Yusaku Maezawa, SpaceX’s first moon passenger
“If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn?” the website for the moon expedition asks. “If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?”
These questions are at the heart of artist-in-residence programs on Earth, particularly those set in far-flung and extreme natural environments that most people never get the chance to see. In the United States, both federal and private organizations send artists to remote areas each year, from the frozen landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic to the parched terrain of the American desert. Participants go off the grid—or as far off the grid as one can these days—and enter environments they can’t truly imagine until they get there.
These places certainly aren’t as remote as, you know, the moon, but they’re about as otherworldly as you can get without escaping Earth’s gravity.
Many nature-focused residencies emerged as public outreach, says Valentine Kass, the program officer at the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, which dates back to the late 1950s. Participants receive round-trip airfare money and six weeks to live and work at the South Pole, either solo or with the scientists stationed there.
“It was felt that it was really important that the work of the scientists that was being done there was brought back to the general public in ways that they could understand and relate to,” Kass says. “Werner Herzog made a film, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a book, Eliot Porter took fabulous photographs. Not everyone who goes are big names like those, but we expect them to produce whatever they propose to produce.”
Such extreme environments can dramatically influence an artist’s perspective. “It’s like a shock to the system,” says James Berg, the co-founder of an artist residency in the dusty desert of Joshua Tree, California. The program, established in 2007, provides six to seven weeks of accommodation and financial support to painters, photographers, filmmakers, writers, and others.