Gates of the West- Christo and Jeanne-Claude
As it now enters its final day of display, who doesn't love Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "The Gates" installation in New York's Central Park? Endless news stories gush about how the couple has turned the whole park into a giant work of art- there's shades of Nam June Paik turning the Guggenheim into an installation piece and maybe the Statue of Liberty is next for some aspiring artist. Also, the Gates brightens up the park during the cold weather and it's estimated that one million visitors will come to see it, especially since the 7,500 gates are only up in February and then gone for good.
One person who doesn't love it is the Washington Post's Blake Gopnik. He calls The Gates "unusually slight" and notes how artificial it looks, going against the grain of the relaxing nature that the Park is supposed to provide to blighted New Yorkers after the initial gawking at the site of the structures. Other than complaining about the loud orange colors that the gates provide, strewn across the park, Gopnik notes that the installation is par for the course with a city infrastructure and art world consumed by "bourgeois beautification."
Being a New Yorker, it's de rigeur that you'd have to see it for yourself nevertheless. No doubt that many locals (and many tourists) probably wouldn't have bothered to stroll there through the cold if there wasn't a spectacle like this to see. Indeed, when you do lay your eyes on it, even after seeing news photos and videos, it IS a sight: the bright colors, the sheer number of them, the look of them lined up over hills and rocks. I love the park in the spring and summer just to see everyone else also enjoying the nice atmosphere and weather. Even in the freezing cold, it's heartening to see other people trudge out to enjoy a public spectacle and no, most of us wouldn't be out there otherwise. I wondered what the ratio of locals to tourists might be- according to my girlfriend, the default clothing color for NYC is black so following this theory, we definitely weren't the only New Yorkers.
As fun as it was to walk through familar pathers and see these huge things dotting the landscape, I saw Gopnik's point after a while. I was snapping pictures like mad at first but after walking around for an hour, I got the point. It was everywhere and it got tiring as such. After some time, you wanted to see areas without them. I understand the point of having them everywhere so you could enjoy them at any place in the park- to the artist's credit, they seeded them up to Harlem, where many downtown and midtown dwellers don't bother to venture. But seeing them again and again, you don't need to see them anymore. Maybe it's best to get a taste of them and then to move on. Maybe it would be more special to have less of them. No doubt that when they're gone though, they will be missed and remembered.
Wouldn't it have been even bolder to not have such a loud color? It surely wouldn't have attracted as many people if they would have been say, white or black or gray. The meaning would then be much different- instead of being bright and light-hearted, they would have carried along other meanings (government, authority, etc.).
Having them as temporal structures also impose another meaning. Because they're only there for a short time, they don't become yet another ho-hum regular part of the city landscape that we all know is there and we'll see someday but may not (i.e. Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building). We're forced to come out and see them now (Steve Reich reference there) with everyone else or miss everything. If such a time constraint makes us all want to experience the Gates, especially when we wouldn't be roaming around, that at least is a notable success. Other than New Year's what the hell would drag us out into the freezing cold all at once? Huge public spectacles like this don't happen often either and since it's something that we can enjoy in a known common place as opposed to a gallery or museum, it fulfills another great mission of public art.
And what else will bring us all together in such a way? I always love to transport such ideas to other mediums. Bryant Park and Battery Park occ. have film series outdoors but you'll never see them attract numbers like the Gates do. Central Park itself has the yearly Shakespeare festivals that draw good numbers but again, nothing like what you see now for the Gates. No, the only thing that you'll find that comes close is yet another event that happens in Central Park- concerts. You know, Paul Simon, Diana Ross. But even those are one time events that are probably going to get dwarfed by the numbers coming for the Gates.
But again, most of these things happen in the same place. Maybe Central Park really is a hub, not for business but for more intangible things. Walking around the Gates will cost you the same as the concert series in the Park which will also cost you the same as strolling through there in warmer weather. No charge. Sure, the hot dog vendors, the horse carriage rides and such will profit from visitors but all of that is optional spending. We enjoy the Park (or anyone other park) because it's attractive public space, which means it's for everyone. As many thrills as we find running into restaurants, clubs or galleries, nothing else we have in a city really compares to a space like that. I don't think I need to see the Gates again but I'm glad that I did and I'm glad they're there, if only to remind us of how valuable the area they inhabit is.