If you have seen New York’s Central Park in recent days, you might have noticed a sudden flood of color amidst the dreary February landscape. Bright flashes of saffron fabric sway over the park’s walkways, suspended from 16-foot high gates. This is the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and it’s art at its finest.
The Gates is a monumental project, with 7,500 archways covering 37 kilometers of footpaths throughout the park. Each gate varies in width from five feet, six inches to 18 feet wide, standing perpendicular to the ground, with woven fabric suspended to about seven feet above the earth.
After hearing about the project last year, I knew it was going to be special. Anyone who has seen Christo’s previous work such as Running Fence (an installation made of white nylon fabric that ran for 40 kilometers north of San Diego, crossing the land of 59 ranchers, before finally ending at the edge of the Pacific ocean), will know he does not do anything half-way. It’s all or nothing. Explaining this project to my friends however, generated more skepticism than belief. I have to say I get more than a bit of satisfaction out of being able to say “I told you so,” now that The Gates have lived up to every expectation I had.
The effect is staggering. Not since studying the masters in my art history classes have I been so captivated or awed by a work of art. The Gates have become saffron rivers winding their way through the barren trees, shifting and waving in the breeze, changing color with the light. Passing under them creates an illusion of stepping across an imaginary boundary, exclusively invited to this unique experience. It’s magical.
After going through art school, I was entirely disenchanted with the state of the art world as it stands now. Nothing grabbed me, nothing resonated; even my desire to create my own work faded. Installation art in general has never been something I particularly liked. The Gates though, are magnificent. They enchant and inspire, and I believe they are the first great work of this century.
I’ve always believed art should be made for the sake of creating something beautiful and moving, not necessarily because it makes a statement or challenges societal stigmas. Simply put, I love art that makes me happy and gives me joy. The Gates do just that (they are intended for that) and they truly are a labor of love. The artists have paid for everything themselves (a total cost of $21 million), accepting no outside sponsorship. They have gone to great lengths to ensure the park’s environment is not affected and all materials used are recyclable, which alone is a feat in itself.
For the throngs of people coming to view the spectacle, The Gates seem to take them under their proverbial wing. People wander under the moving fabric, soaking up warm shadows and enjoying the result of 26 years of planning. For 16 days, the people of New York and those who come to visit will be privileged to explore the park in a way that they never have, and will never forget. If you have the chance to go, I would suggest you make it a priority. Works like this one do not come along every day.