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Thread: Christo: The Gates, Central Park

  1. #31
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    February 10, 2005

    Central Park Makeover: Reality Show, in a Way

    By CAROL VOGEL


    The volunteers installing Christo's "Gates" in Central Park share a resolve to be a part of the city's biggest public-art happening ever.


    Paid volunteers raising part of the "Gates" installation in Central Park.

    Slide Show: It's a Wrap

    Video: Work Begins on "The Gates"

    t 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday, as the sun was beginning to rise over Central Park, the Loeb Boathouse was buzzing. The artist Christo stood outside, admiring the way the soft morning light bathed the orange gates that teams of workers had put into place on Monday.

    It was Day Two of installing his vast $20 million public art project, created with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, and there was a sense that there was no time to lose. So far, 261 16-foot-tall gates had sprouted around the park. By tomorrow evening, 7,500 will have to be in place along the park's pedestrian walkways from 59th Street to 110th Street, in time for the saffron-colored fabric that adorns the gates to be unfurled around 8:30 on Saturday morning. (The project will remain through Feb. 27.)

    Inside the boathouse, the 600-odd paid volunteers enlisted for the five-day job were chatting over coffee and rolls, waiting to head off to their assigned areas. Things had gotten off to a slow start on Monday. It had taken time for the workers to assemble, find their work areas and figure out the most efficient way to work.

    Still, every team seemed competitively conscious of its accomplishments. "We installed 27 gates yesterday," boasted Ann W. Richards, the former governor from Texas.

    "There's something magical about people coming together for a common purpose without something for them to gain," she added. "I'm having a ball."

    "There's real energy," agreed Antoine Douaihy, who oversees 150 people in 14 teams as the leader of Area One - extending from 59th Street to 65th Street and from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West - and in real life works in film production. "One team refused to stop until they had put up 25 gates."

    Also savoring the scene was Anne L. Strauss, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who organized an exhibition of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates"-related drawings, collages, photographs and maps last year. "There are a lot of art people here," she said.

    While each team seemed diverse in age and profession, from college students to retired teachers and doctors, all had a common bond: a resolve to be a part of the city's biggest public-art happening ever.

    By 7:30 a.m., after a pep talk from Vince Davenport, the project's chief engineer and construction director, and from Capt. Andrew Capul, commanding officer of the Central Park Precinct, everyone headed off to their assigned areas.

    Although Mr. Douaihy called the 261 gates installed on Monday a "respectable" figure, he said that 400 to 500 more would have to go up Tuesday if the effort was to be completed by Friday.

    Cruising around the park in a golf cart, he consulted with Guy Efrat, one of the area's so-called "zone supervisors." (Each area is divided into zones, and each zone into teams.) Mr. Efrat, who also works in movie production, was overseeing three teams in Mr. Douaihy's area.

    Like mutual strangers in a reality television show, each team felt somewhat randomly thrown together. But often, the common strand was art: Area One, Section 10, for instance, was made up of a performance artist, an advertising art director, a retired doctor/Yale University professor, a sculptor/gilder, an architect, an architectural draftsman, a freelance stagehand and a recent college graduate who is on his way to become an intern at the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary-art organization in Marfa, Tex.

    "I've never seen so many artsy people in my life," said Huascar Pimentel, the stagehand, who is one of the professional workers that was assigned to the team. "These guys are great - they don't mind getting their hands dirty."

    Nor did the men mind taking directions from a woman, although some of them joked about it. ("You don't see this much cooperation in the workplace," said Robert Steigelman, the advertising art director.) Catherine Courter, the sculptor and gilder, had been named the team's captain by the organizers. Michael Bianco, the recent graduate, and Arvin Garay-Cruz, the architect, had been asked to be the "levelers," the team members who made sure that the steel plates anchoring the poles in heavy bases were installed correctly.

    Each worker had attended a four-hour training session last week where the professionals took notes on those who demonstrated leadership ability (potential team captains) or mechanical ability (levelers).

    It took only about three minutes for the workers to actually hoist a gate into place. The hard part was using the right size horizontal poles (which depended on the width of walkways) and wielding nuts, bolts and wrenches to attach parts like the orange boxlike sleeves that conceal the metal plates. And some spots were more difficult than others. On heavily trafficked paths, installers often had to stop working to let pedestrians pass. Hilly or narrow paths were harder to work on.

    And then there was the saccharine music emanating nonstop from the ice rink. And the remarks of passersby. "I can't work it out - it horrifies me that this is costing $20 million, I don't care who's paying for it," a man carrying a briefcase said as he hurried past the workers of Area One, Section 10, on West 59th Street behind the Wollman Skating Rink.

    Still, most people who stopped to chat had positive reactions. "I'm not sure about the color, but I'm a fan," Douglas F. Eaton, a United States District Court judge, said after his daily round of skating.

    On Monday the team members installed only 18 gates. But by 10:15 on Tuesday morning they were already putting up the 11th of the day. The key was establishing a rhythm: one person repeatedly readied the equipment for the levelers, and the levelers would begin their task as others trundled the gates over to their assigned positions.

    "This is my cheap and cheerful vacation," Robert Condon, the architectural draftsman, said, holding a pole in position. By noon the team headed back to the boathouse for lunch, leaving Mr. Pimentel behind to watch the equipment. (That job rotates among teammates each day.)

    "Can you believe it, this was conceived the year I was born?" Mr. Cruz, 26, said as the group ambled toward the boathouse. (Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been working on "The Gates" since 1979.)

    "If you look at one gate, it's ugly, it looks like a guillotine," he mused. "It's the multiplicity of them that makes it a total artwork."

    "The more go up, the cooler it looks," Ms. Courter agreed over lunch in the packed boathouse. Team members sat together, chatting happily while keeping a wary ear open to find out how many gates the other teams had installed.

    Then it was back to their assigned area near the rink. By 4 p.m., Area One, Section 10, had managed to install a total of 35 gates. Exhausted, the team members returned their supplies to a nearby staging area and began planning for Wednesday.

    After ticking off the completed gates on a map, Ms. Courter started counting those that would have to be installed on Wednesday.

    "Thirty-five again tomorrow," she said. "No problem."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  3. #33

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    Christo's Gates around the Central Park's Pond, with Plaza Hotel. 9 February 2005.


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  5. #35

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    February 11, 2005

    Art in the Park Calls for More Than Velvet Ropes

    By JENNIFER 8. LEE

    t is one thing to guard a Fabergé egg or the Mona Lisa. Any experienced security expert can list the basic tactics: velvet ropes, glass display cases and infrared beams.

    But how to protect art made up of 7,500 gates sprawled over 23 miles of trail in an 843-acre park whose entrances are never fully closed, even at night?

    The problem with protecting public art is, well, it's public.

    The usual safeguards are of little use when the artists envision visitors walking through their creation, a luminous river of saffron fabric in Central Park.

    "To cordon this off would be detrimental to the aesthetic of the display," said Chris Grniet, a vice president at Kroll, the security company.

    So "The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005," by the husband and wife team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, has prompted one of the largest efforts by the New York Police Department to protect a single installation of art - proportional to the attention-grabbing nature of the exhibit, which is expected to draw at least 200,000 tourists to New York when it opens tomorrow for a 16-day run.

    The department is dispatching helicopters that broadcast live aerial feeds, building a 24-hour command center in the Loeb Boathouse at the park and adding several hundred police officers to the park's 125-person police force. There will be 20 officers on horseback and 43 on scooter patrol. In addition, the artists have hired a 36-person private security team to maintain round-the-clock surveillance.

    Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, said the artists would reimburse the city for any costs it incurs, including the increased security.

    The department has also set up an 87-officer detail to translate in five foreign languages: French, Italian, German, Japanese and Chinese. And it has published a guide to the exhibit.

    Officials say the exhibit was designed to be durable. "The nature of the installation makes it very hard to vandalize," said Adrian Benepe, the New York City parks commissioner.

    But public art has always been a target for vandalism, especially the popular animal statues that many cities have commissioned over the last several years.

    In July, a 250-pound panda statue, along with its 650-pound concrete base, was stolen from a busy street corner in Washington, baffling the police.

    The body turned up five months later - dumped in a creek 20 miles away.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  6. #36

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    February 11, 2005

    Above the Park, When 'The Gates' Open

    By JAMES BARRON


    Ben and Donna Rosen have floor-to-ceiling windows, a view of Central Park and plans for a party on Saturday.

    uddenly, New Yorkers with friends in high places are wondering: Are their friends in the right high places, that is, overlooking Central Park? And when is their party?

    "The Gates," a $20 million art project by the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, opens tomorrow in Central Park, and it promises to be a social event, not just an artistic one.

    "Everybody I know who lives around the park is doing parties for 'The Gates,' said Annaliese Soros, who is planning two parties in her apartment on Central Park West. "The Christo events are happenings, and they attract a lot of enthusiasm. They attract a lot of people. They do something very special and very different. Berlin had five million tourists when he draped the Reichstag. We won't have that many here."

    She meant in the city, not in her apartment. But some party-givers say the crowd they are expecting is bigger than they had originally planned. The guest list grew as friends called, and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.

    The 7,500 gates in the project have been installed throughout this week. Tomorrow morning, fabric will be unfurled from atop them. The project will be on view for 16 days.

    Donna Rosen, who lives on the 43rd floor of a building a couple of blocks south of Mrs. Soros's, recalled her conversations with her caterer, Gretchen Aquanita, as they planned an open house in Mrs. Rosen's apartment. "I said, 'I think 75,' " Mrs. Rosen said. "Then I called again, 'I think we might be over 100.' Then I called, '200.' She said, 'Ahhgggh.' "

    As the gates were being set in place beneath Mrs. Rosen's floor-to-ceiling windows on Wednesday, the count was up to 240, and she was talking about Ms. Aquanita's plans for a menu to match the orange color of the fabric-covered gates on the park's pedestrian paths.

    "She said, 'Shall we use saffron?' " Mrs. Rosen recalled. "I said, 'Of course.' " Ms. Aquanita began planning shrimp and saffron salad.

    Gail May Engelberg, who has invited friends to her apartment on Fifth Avenue, remembered chatting with Christo a couple of years ago at an event for the Guggenheim Museum. "I said, 'How's the project coming?' " she recalled. "I wanted to host my friends and be able for them to have a look down on 'The Gates' whether there is snow or ice or sunny blue skies."

    For some, just looking out the window was not enough to make sure they had a clear view. "I walked over to the park to make sure that I could see the two windows of my apartment," said Rosamond Ivey, a trustee of the Art Gallery of Ontario, who is giving a "Gates" cocktail party in her apartment on East 79th Street between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue late next week.

    Her guests will have drinks at her apartment after inspecting "The Gates" on a walk through the park. Then they will go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for dinner, where David Moos, the curator of contemporary art at the Ontario museum, will be joined by Jonathan Feinberg, an art historian who wrote a monograph on "The Gates."

    Mr. Moos, whose museum has a Christo exhibition on display, said he is looking forward to seeing "The Gates" from ground level and from Ms. Ivey's apartment.

    "If you think of Central Park as the great democratic American space, Jeffersonian, Whitmanic, in the heart of the metropolis, it is interesting to contemplate who has access to the aerial view," he said. "It puts into relief this political dimension."

    And then there are the corporate parties. Budget Living magazine, for example, sent invitations for a breakfast-lunch-or-midday-break party that will begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in a 24th-floor apartment with Oscar de la Renta furniture and 10 Christo images on the walls.

    "It's more like a moving cocktail party all day, until it gets dark," said Donald E. Welsh, the magazine's founder.

    And no, it will not break Budget Living's budget: the apartment, the furniture and the Christos are all borrowed.

    Mrs. Soros, who lives on the ninth floor, will be closer to "The Gates."

    "It will be like watching the Thanksgiving Day parade," she said. "I can practically touch the floats, and whoever is on the 36th floor cannot. From up there, you get, obviously, an idea. Down here, it's much more real and touchable. Here, you feel you want to go out and walk through the park and just be there."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  7. #37

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    This morning - Christo and Jeanne-Claude with the Gates installation crew. 11 February 2005.


  8. #38

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    Nice one, Edward.

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    The Gates on the shore of the Harlem Meer. 11 February 2005.


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    February 12, 2005

    'The Gates' Unfurling to High Hopes

    By RANDY KENNEDY

    ith 45 television cameras in front of him and a view of bright orange vinyl gates stretching through Central Park behind him, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the city expected an infusion of $80 million in tourism and other spending by people flocking to see "The Gates," the vast public art project by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

    Worldwide interest in the project was clear at the news conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where journalists from more than 200 media outlets, including networks in Sweden, Mexico City and Tokyo and others as unusual as Bulgarian national television, crowded into the Temple of Dendur to hear the mayor and the two artists discuss the project, whose saffron-colored fabric panels will be unfurled this morning.

    For Mr. Bloomberg - who has reduced the city's arts budget amid general cutbacks but has also emerged as the strongest promoter of public art at City Hall in decades - the event was a chance to bask in the glow of a near-perfect blockbuster project: one that comes at no cost to the city (the artists are paying for everything, including extra police officers) and that will attract thousands of art pilgrims to New York during a month when tourism is traditionally at its lowest.

    "With no ticket sales of any kind it's impossible to predict exactly how big an impact 'The Gates' will have during its 16-day stay here," Mr. Bloomberg said, "but based on attendance at similar events and other factors, the city's Economic Development Corporation estimates that the project will generate more than $80 million in economic activity for our city."

    The $20 million project was originally conceived by the artists in 1979 and was rejected by three mayoral administrations before Mr. Bloomberg's, in part because of concerns about its cost and about damage to the park.

    The mayor, who first became interested in the notion of "The Gates" in 1995 as a trustee of the Central Park Conservancy, made light of the project's long history yesterday, saying that it took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Beethoven five years to write the Ninth Symphony. "Mere blinks of an eye," he said, "compared to the time that it took to build the masterpiece that we are celebrating today."

    "I can't promise," he added, "particularly since this is New York, that every single person will love 'The Gates,' but I guarantee that they will all talk about it."

    "And that's really what innovative, provocative art is supposed to do," he added, as Jeanne-Claude and Christo sat next to him.

    Vince Davenport, the project's engineer, said that teams of workers would be standing by in case any of the 16-foot-high gates broke or were pushed down, and that a gate could be replaced in less than an hour. But both he and Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, said they did not anticipate many problems, from either vandals or the weather. Mr. Davenport said that teams would begin manually unfurling the fabric at 8:30 a.m. and that all of the panels should be released by about 11.

    Asked often yesterday to explain the meaning of the project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude emphasized that its meaning would have to be found by those who walked through the 7,500 gates, spread over 23 miles of walkways.

    "It has no purpose," Jeanne-Claude said. "It is not a symbol. It is not a message. It is only a work of art."

    But Christo explained that it related in some ways to the unrealized plans of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park's designers, to place iron gates at many of the entrances to the park. He added that the fabric panels, which will blow and curve in the wind, are also meant to remind viewers of the park's serpentine paths and the curves of the empty branches of the trees above them.

    After answering several questions, however, Christo became clearly frustrated by trying to explain his work and emphatically urged experience over rational inquiry. "This project is not involved with talk," he said. "It is real physical space. You need to spend time walking in the cold air - sunny day, rainy day, even snow. It is not necessary to talk."


    EDITORIAL NOTEBOOK

    At Last, the Gates Wave in Central Park

    By CAROLYN CURIEL

    ew artists can make a global splash like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who are spouses and collaborators. Their public art creations are not so much displayed as audaciously imposed: installations that employ landscapes and buildings as mannequins and pincushions. They put pink skirts on islands off Florida, silver draping around the Reichstag in Berlin and colorful umbrellas in fields in Southern California and Japan. As a successor to these phenomena, "The Gates," which unfurls today in Central Park, adds another dimension, a certain humanity within the grandeur.

    The artists' earlier inventions were often remote, away from urban areas or other easily accessible settings. The splendor depended on what photographs or aerial video could capture. Not so with "The Gates." For 16 days, "The Gates" will be in place, with 7,500 saffron-colored panels hanging above pedestrians like slices of sunlight.

    Streaming along 23 miles of walkways in Central Park - the most-visited park in the nation's largest city - the installation invites interaction and exploration. The artists have said the saffron color of the fabric and frames was chosen simply because they like it, but it seems a prompt for meditation and reflection. Still, visitors shouldn't expect a lot of peace and quiet. New Yorkers and tourists are expected to crowd the park, an unusual circumstance in the month of February.

    As with their previous 18 large works, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed the full cost, some $20 million. They also paid with time and perseverance. It took a quarter-century to realize their vision, which finally won approval after the election of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Only in the last few weeks did the scope of the project become clear, with the frames springing up as if ready for a giant round of croquet.

    On one recent day, crew members hoisted poles into place and took in early reviews from passers-by. One called it an abomination, but others seemed more enthralled. One woman, who described herself as a landscape painter, called the work in progress "an environmental happening." Another woman, on skates and carrying a Bergdorf Goodman bag, tried unsuccessfully to volunteer to help on the spot. In the dead of winter, when sensations can go as numb as uncovered ears, Christo and Jeanne-Claude and their legions of helpers are at the very least succeeding in awakening sentiments.

    Critics can argue that Central Park does not need the fuss. But maybe New Yorkers do, in the form of this bright respite.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  11. #41

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    The Gates are unfurled. 12 February 2005.


  12. #42

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    The Gates on the shore of the Harlem Meer. 12 February 2005.





    The Gates on the shore of the Harlem Meer, near the Lenox Avenue entrance. 12 February 2005.


  13. #43
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    My dad and I went for a walk through the park today. The Gates are fantastic. I don't think I've seen so many people out in the park in February.

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    February 13, 2005

    Dressing Up in Orange, and Pleats

    By JAMES BARRON


    Volunteers unfurled "The Gates" installation throughout New York's Central Park on Sunday.


    The weather was windy and cold as the first fabric dropped from one of the 7,500 16-foot-high gates, creating what the artists billed as "a visual golden river'' along the park's footpaths.

    Video: Unveiling 'The Gates' in Central Park

    o that is what 1.089 million yards of orange-yellow fabric looks like, floating and fluttering and flapping in Central Park.

    The giant $21 million art project "The Gates," which had already filled the park's 23 miles of pathways with thousands of saffron-colored portals, blossomed yesterday at 8:31 a.m., just as the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, had planned.

    They watched as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg raised a long metal pole to release fabric from the top of a gate in the Sheep Meadow. Also watching was a crowd that chanted a countdown like the one heard each New Year's Eve in Times Square - "Five! Four! Three! Two! One!"- before the mayor unfurled the fabric on the first gate.

    Each and every one of the 7,500 gates had the same cocoon of fabric, and after Mr. Bloomberg had unfurled four more, workers (hired and paid by the artists) fanned out through the park to complete the job.

    By midmorning, the park's circulatory system had taken on the bright color of veins twisting and twirling against the gray-and-brown backdrop of midwinter. The pleated nylon fabric pulsed and swayed at the whim of a 12-mile-an-hour wind - not strong enough to make it snap like a spinnaker on an America's Cup challenger. The color was almost as fiery and fierce as the sun that had risen a couple of hours earlier.

    "Look at the light," Christo said. "Look, look."

    In the crowd, people tried to do exactly that. People who had tried to imagine what the completed project would look like finally had a glimpse.

    Some described them as too-short window shades dangling in the breeze. Some mentioned squarish out-of-season butterflies. Some were intrigued by the play of light on the fabric: as the peekaboo sun came and went, the nylon had a touchable texture one minute and a one-dimensional look the next. Some echoed what Christo and Jeanne-Claude had said about a river of bright color against twigs and leafless branches. Some talked about exhilaration and exuberance. Some were more literal.

    "A pleated skirt," said Kathleen Catapano of Brooklyn. She looked again, and another idea came to mind: "I think it looks like Jeanne-Claude's hair."

    Jeanne-Claude has said that her hair, which is redder than the gates, was not what prompted them to choose the color. But they consider the public spectacle of their installations a part of the works themselves. And the preparation for yesterday's event had been a spectacle of its own.

    It began with workers laying the bases for the gates and people talking about how the bases - dark gray, rectangular and squat - looked like something out of a step class. That gave way to the idea of a barn-raising as each gate was fitted together and lifted in place.

    "It was like watching an egg hatching slowly," said Olufunmibi Awoshiley, a hospital administrator, "and I didn't know what it was going to look like. Now I see it, and it's beautiful."

    The unfurling was a payoff of patience and persistence. In 1981, after the city rejected his original proposal on the ground that it would damage the park's landscape and set a dangerous precedent, Christo made clear that he would not give up. "I am in good health," he declared at the time. "The park is still there, and I will do that project."

    Never mind that the Parks Department had issued a 107-page put-down that said Christo's installation would be "in the wrong place and the wrong time and in the wrong scale."

    The crowds it would draw, seen by the current generation of city officials as a plus, were considered a negative then. The document also complained that approval would be "inconsistent" with Parks Department permit policies, setting a precedent that could force officials to go along with other large-scale installations.

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude spent the 1980's and 1990's wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris with fabric and rope; planting blue umbrellas over a 12-mile-long valley in Japan and yellow ones over a 24-mile valley in California; and wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin with 1.076 million square feet of silvery fabric and bright blue rope.

    What a difference a couple of decades can make. The city gave the go-ahead in 2003 for a project that was both slimmer and taller than originally planned. There are 7,500 gates instead of 11,000 to 15,000, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude had first envisioned.

    But each gate is 16 feet high, a foot taller than originally proposed. Instead of steel poles, as first proposed, the frames of the gates are square. The fabric is no longer attached like shower curtains but connected directly to the frames.

    And while the first plans called for drilling 15,000 holes in the park to anchor the gates, the final design has the sturdy bases, which rest on the ground. It is all temporary.

    Once the gates are dismantled at the end of the month, there will be no sign that they were there - no holes in the ground, no missing limbs from trees that were trimmed to make room for them.

    In places where a gate might have brushed against a branch or a limb, the tree won. The gate was moved, but only a bit.

    The artists have said that there is no best place from which to view the installation, in their words "a celebration of the processional, ceremonial walkways of the park." They said they had envisioned the fabric as "a golden ceiling creating warm shadows" within the park, and "a golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees" from above.

    They also said, on their Web site (christojeanneclaude.net), that "there are no official opening events." But the moment with the mayor, who had been a supporter of the project in private life, came close.

    As soon as it was over, Christo and Jeanne-Claude climbed into a $300,000 limousine and went on an inspection tour.

    They left behind a crowd as concerned with views and angles as they were. The fans realized, as the gates were going up, that the project would have a decidedly different effect from ground level than from a nearby apartment or a helicopter.

    The fans also realized that "The Gates" had a limited life cycle - 16 days from yesterday's unfurling. So, like Karen Castellano of Los Angeles, they had made their travel plans.

    "They look like - I don't know, the prettiest curtains I've ever seen," she said as one gate after another opened in the breeze.

    Yvonne Woetzel, a painter from Dusseldorf, Germany, said that she would not have missed the project.

    "It's impressive," she said. "It touches people. And it makes people happy. And to see the fabric moving - it's so impressive."

    George McElroy of Manhattan, who runs a financial services company, marveled at the logistics and the statistics. It took 165,000 bolts and an equal number of self-locking nuts to hold the gates together. Christo's Web site said there were 46 miles of hems in the fabric. And the length?

    "It's 23 miles," he said of "The Gates." "That's what a marathon is."

    Some fans said "The Gates" had been an endurance run for Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The project's official title, "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005," acknowledges the time it took from brainstorm to unfurling.

    "They waited so long," said Juliana C. Nash, a public relations researcher. "It's almost like Camilla and Charles."

    Yesterday, Jeanne-Claude had a one word description for her reaction to the completed installation: "Ecstatic."

    But everybody is a critic. Consider the assessment of Vinnie D'Angelo, an artist: "The chunky gate shape, the bright colors - it seems like a 70's aesthetic."

    His friend Seth Bomse, a film editor, said he found the initial unfurling lacking. "It was kind of disappointing close up," he said, "but I like it from a distance."

    Ann Farmer, Colin Moynihan and Stephanie Rosenbloom contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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    February 13, 2005

    AN APPRAISAL

    In a Saffron Ribbon, a Billowy Gift to the City

    By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN

    Slide Show

    t is a long, billowy saffron ribbon meandering through Central Park -- not a neat bow, but something that's very much a gift package to New York City. "The Gates," by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, was officially unveiled yesterday.

    Thousands of swaths of pleated nylon were unfurled to bob and billow in the breeze. In the winter light, the bright fabric seemed to warm the fields, flickering like a flame against the barren trees. Even at first blush, it was clear that "The Gates" is a work of pure joy, a vast populist spectacle of good will and simple eloquence, the first great public art event of the 21st century. It remains on view for just 16 days. Consider yourself forewarned. Time is fleeting.

    On a partly sunny, chilly morning, with helicopters buzzing overhead and mobs of well-wishers on hand, an army of paid helpers gradually released the panels of colored fabric from atop the 16-foot-tall gates, all 7,500 of them. The shifting light couldn't have been better to show off the effects of the cloth. Sometimes the fabric looked deep orange; at other times it was shiny, like gold leaf, or silvery or almost tan. In the breeze, the skirted gates also appeared to shimmy like dancers in a conga line, the cloth buckling and swaying.

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude drove around slowly to watch the progress. Fans mobbed their car. Like all projects by this duo, "The Gates" is as much a public happening as it is a vast environmental sculpture and a feat of engineering. It has required more than 1 million square feet of vinyl and 5,300 tons of steel, arrayed along 23 miles of footpaths throughout the park at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of $20 million.

    I hadn't been quite sure when I first saw the project going up last week. From outside the park, the gates looked like endless rows of inert orange dominoes overwhelming Frederick Law Olmsted's and Calvert Vaux's masterpiece.

    But as the artists have insisted, the gates aren't made to be seen from above or from outside. I stopped in at a friend's office high above Central Park South yesterday and ogled the panorama, which was lovely. But it was beside the point. It's the difference between sitting in a skybox at Giants Stadium and playing the game on the field. The gates need to be - they are conceived to be - experienced on the ground, at eye level, where, as you move through the park, they crisscross and double up, rising over hills, blocking your view of everything except sky, then passing underfoot, through an underpass, or suddenly appearing through a copse of trees, their fabric fluttering in the corner of your eye.

    There are no bad locales for seeing them. But there are some spots at which the work looks best: around the Heckscher ball fields, where the gates are dense and lines of them swarm in many directions at once; at the base of Strawberry Fields, where two parallel rows march in tight syncopation; at Harlem Meer, where they cluster up to the shore and then clamber, helter-skelter, up the rocks. Also at Great Hill, near West 106th Street, where they encircle the crescent field, then descend a flight of steep steps.

    And at North Meadow, a wide-open vista, where the gates wander off toward the horizon, separating earth and sky with an undulating saffron band.

    People preened under the unfurled gates, watching the fabric sway. Now one no longer ambles through the park, but rather saunters below the flapping nylon. Paths have become like processionals, boulevards decked out as if with flags for a holiday. Everyone is suddenly a dignitary on parade.

    A century and a half ago, Olmsted talked about the park as a place of dignity for the masses, a great locus of democratic ideals, influencing "the minds of men through their imaginations." It's useful to recall that Christo conceived of "The Gates" 26 years ago, when Central Park was in abominable shape. The project had something of a reclamation mission about it, in keeping with Christo's uplifting agenda. He was born in Bulgaria in 1935 and escaped the Soviet bloc for Paris in 1958. His philosophy has always been rooted in the utopianism of Socialist Realism, with its belief in art for Everyman.

    But in place of the gigantic monuments of Mother Russia, forced upon the Soviet public and financed by the state, he has imagined a purely abstract art, open-ended in its meanings, paid for by the artist, and requiring the persuasion of the public through an open political process.

    After which the art comes and goes. "Once upon a time" is a phrase Christo likes. Once upon a time, he imagines people will say, there were "The Gates" in Central Park.

    Central Park is in fine shape today, but the project still has a social value, in gathering people together for their shared pleasure. Some purists will complain that the art spoils a sanctuary, that the park is perfect as it is, which it is. But the work, I think, pays gracious homage to Olmsted's and Vaux's abiding pastoral vision: like immense Magic Marker lines, the gates highlight the ingenious and whimsical curves, dips and loops that Olmsted and Vaux devised as antidotes to the rigid grid plan of the surrounding city streets and, by extension, to the general hardships of urban life.

    The gates, themselves a cure for psychic hardship, remind us how much those paths vary, in width, and height, like the crowds of people who walk along them. More than that, being so sensitive to nature, they make us more sensitive to its effects.

    We didn't need the gates to make us sensitive, obviously. Art is never necessary. It is merely indispensable.

    At its best, it leads us toward places we might not have thought to visit. Victor Hugo once said, "There is nothing more interesting than a wall behind which something is happening." This also applies to gates, which beckon people to discover what is beyond them.

    With their endless self-promotion, and followers trailing them like Deadheads from one global gig to another, it's no wonder that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have made a few skeptics of people who often have not seen their art at first hand. New Yorkers are a notoriously tough crowd.

    But I was struck by what I overheard a stranger say. She was a doubter won over yesterday. "It will be fascinating when they're gone," she mused.

    It took me a second to realize what she meant: that the gates, by ravishing the eye, have already impressed an image of the park on the memories of everyone who has seen them. And like all vivid memories, that image can take a place in the imagination, like a smell or some notes of music or a breeze, waiting to be rekindled.

    Once upon a time there were "The Gates." The time is now.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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