Harmony at “The Gates”

I was exhausted on the morning of Saturday, February 12 when I climbed out of bed in as the sun rose over New York City. But the sight I was about to see made me forget all my grogginess. Coffee in hand, I was about to witness a beautifully unique moment in the history of modern art: the unfurling of the epic public art project of Christo and Jeanne-Claude entitled “The Gates.” I had anticipated The Gates for about eight or nine months, since viewing the large exhibit about the project in the Metropolitan Museum. I was mesmerized by the pictures of orange gates lining 23 miles of the long, winding paths of Central Park; the vision was surreal, to say the least of it. Was this real, or just the crazy dream of some idealistic modern artists? Yes, I understood on Saturday morning, it was a dream, a dream finally realized for the artists after 25 years of careful planning and anticipation. The Gate is a public art installation in Central Park. There are 7,500 bright orange “gates,” made of 5,290 tons of steel. These gates are large brackets, varying in length according to the width of the path. They are spaced about 12 feet apart and continue for, as mentioned, 23 miles of path! On Saturday morning, I saw the unfurling of part of over a million square feet of orange saffron, which dangles, carefully pleated and hemmed, from the tops of The Gates, flowing freely in the wind. And the amazing thing is that this project, which has taken so much time, money, and materials, is staying up for only sixteen days. Walking to Central Park that morning, I saw a man wearing bright orange sneakers and a matching hat. I laughed out loud. He had dressed up to match the art! And he was not alone: there were droves of people that morning dressed in that bright orange color. Think about the implications of this. Christo has made art that is accessible to everyone. When was the last time this happened? Most of the modern art I have seen is pretty alienating to at least some. The very conception of modern art is fairly pretentious. People may not appreciate what Christo has done, but it is difficult to deny the innovation and passion behind his art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude funded the entire project themselves. They provided several hundred people with employment during the course of the installation: every one of The Gates workers was paid, excepting Jeanne-Claude’s mother. In the words of the artists, “This work of art is FREE for all to enjoy…If anyone tries to sell you a ticket, do not buy it. This would be an act of fraud because no tickets are needed. Central Park is public space, open and free to all people.” The contrast of the orange of The Gates against the bright blue sky only deepened the powerful expression radiating from this work of art. Walking down the paths, The Gates envelop you, lift your spirits the way they fly in the wind, and finally fade away at the end of a long, whimsical artistic journey. Perhaps the most poignant characteristic of the Gates is that they will exist for only a fleeting moment in our collective lives. But years from now, we will cast our minds back to the two weeks when Central Park was filled with orange, lightening up even the grayest winter day, uniting people from within New York and even around the country and the world, and bringing art to one and all.