The Gates

by Jon Mandle on February 26, 2005

The Gates! Count me as a moderate supporter. It’s hard to talk about The Gates — the Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation in Central Park — without sounding pretentious. Like this: “Our memories of this experience are how the artwork changes us — perhaps the most powerful force of art, that the changes made are not in the site, but in us.” I can’t really say that I’m so different than I was a week ago. Sure, I guess they made me think, but that’s something I try to do anyway. The whole thing is just asking for parodies (this is my favorite) and mockery (like this).

But I like them. Let me just say, there are lots of ’em. There’s no location — on the ground, at least — where you can take in all of them, so there is always a sense that you’re only seeing a very small part of a much larger work — most of it stays out of reach. At the same time, each gate is made on a human scale and is not at all overwhelming. When the wind blows and creates a wave in one after another, the effect is quite beautiful. And together they highlight the different elevations of the park that wouldn’t be so obvious with out them — especially where one path passes on a bridge over another. They call attention to the topography of the park itself and not as much to themselves as you would expect given their construction site orange saffron color.

As my family walked through them, we stopped at a playground so my daughter could play on the swings. There were some young teenage boys hanging out there, smoking and trying to be cool. One of them asked if we knew where the art was supposed to be. My wife pointed to the gates and replied, “That’s it, all around.” They thought this was terribly funny, and one said: “I could do that in my bedroom.” To which the only possible reply was: “You must have some bedroom.”

{ 1 trackback }

02.28.05 at 1:04 am



peteb 02.26.05 at 11:29 pm

If you haven’t read it already, may I recommend this collaborative review of Christo’s Gates


gmoke 02.27.05 at 3:07 am

In the 60s in San Francisco, the Diggers used to serve free food in the park. Before they did, they set up an empty frame which once held a mirror. There was a sign above it: Frame of Reference. People who wanted to eat had to pass through it so they would all be in the same frame of reference.

That’s what the Gates Project has done to Central Park.

Saw it yesterday with a friend and thought it was like a Chinese procession, the bright color marching throughout the park. It made lots of people smile and think about the park in a new way.

Good for Christo and Jean-Claude!


Josh 02.27.05 at 4:55 am

I’ve got a satellite photo of the Gates at my blog.


Cristobal Senior 02.27.05 at 7:08 am

I am not sure we are talking about art here.Art carries a vision of the world,a message to us about how to view some aspect of it.I am afraid with Christo we are talking about decoration for the sake of decoration.If is art,is the perfect Neo-liberal art of our times :it says nothing,it simply decorates.
Or it is better simply viewed as a superzised egomaniac imposition on the public landscape.Christo claims the project cost $ 20 million ,but he’ll personaqlly will get many more millions out of it from its documentation in the form of video tapes,CDs,photos,postcards,lectures,travelling shows,etc
Cristoba Senior


cliu 02.27.05 at 8:30 am

If you haven’t seen these daily shows on Christo — you’ve got to check it out. daily show clips .

and and more daily show clips .

Look, I don’t mind if Christo and Jeanne Claude make some money from this….why all the resentment?

I am not sure that the concept in this conceptual art is all that — well, conceptual, but its sheer ambition redefines the scale of public art projects.


derek 02.27.05 at 8:40 am

I don’t have an opinion on the installation itself, but if I’d been that boy, I’d have shot back with “You’re right, I couldn’t do it in my bedroom. But I could do it in Central Park, if you gave me Central Park to do it in.”

So much of modern art seems to be parasitic on older art. What I see when I see St. Paul’s Cathedral wrapped in plastic is 1% the work of Christo, and 99% the work of Christopher Wren.


Jasper Milvain 02.27.05 at 11:45 am

If the 1% is worth having, or the 99% would otherwise be routinely ignored, you’re looking at something symbiotic rather than parasitic.


cliu 02.27.05 at 1:31 pm

Even though I have no investment in defending Christo’s concepts, when I read posts like Derek’s, it does give me pause about the refusal to recognize what might be original or particular to contemporary art. Derek, I’m afraid that Boileau got there first about parasitic modernism in his 17th century French aesthetic theory defending the greatness of the Ancients (for him it was the Greeks) against the callowness of his contemporaries. For Boileau as for you, it seems, the only good art is old art.


jim 02.27.05 at 3:07 pm

Actually, if you gave the boy Central Park, he still couldn’t do it. Viewed purely as a project–envisaging, gaining approval for, managing and coordinating: fabricating, delivering, assembling, maintaining, tearing down, recycling–this is beyond many, perhaps most people’s capabilities.

On my blog, I separated the technique from the work: the technique is not the work. But to appreciate a work you need to have some sense of the technique. Thick impasto or so flat you can hardly distinguish the brushstrokes makes a difference. It’s hard to talk about Childe Hassam without talking about his adopting impressionism.

Christo’s technique is politico-managerial rather than artisanal. But it exists as surely as Seurat’s dots.

One other point. Christo’s art is not conceptual. It is highly concrete. One experiences these particular gates, at this moment, in this place, against this sun, under these wind conditions, through these branches. A friend in LA who saw The Umbrellas said they were very carefully and specifically placed.


Uncle Kvetch 02.27.05 at 3:56 pm

As I wrote to a friend shortly after The Gates were installed:

“No admission fee, no celebrity-studded opening gala, no obnoxious security pushing people around like cattle, no corporate sponsorship. In this day and age, it’s goddamn revolutionary.”


Tom T. 02.27.05 at 7:47 pm

A friend in LA who saw The Umbrellas said they were very carefully and specifically placed.

Well, until one blew over and killed someone.


Richard 02.28.05 at 4:15 am

Just got back from a trip to New York to see the MoMA since its renevation. I took some time to see the Gates and found that for me they upset what Central Park is all about. That is, a place in the middle of the city where you can go to be completely enveloped in nature, free of any indication of the industrialized city around. The gates dispel this magic of Central Park with their steel and modern fabric construction.

Thankfully they will be gone soon.


lahke 02.28.05 at 11:46 pm

Richard’s post on the purpose of Cental Park echoed what I heard from some viewers–that the Park was about nature and the Gates disturbed that. This is pretty mind-boggling–haven’t you folks ever seen real nature, for crying out loud? Central Park is stuffed full of lampposts, statues, trash cans, benches, fences, the zoo, you name it. It’s only natural compared to Times Square.

I saw the Umbrellas, too, and in both cases was filled with delight. Why does art always have to be “serious”? I also went to a photo show while in NYC–several hundred dreary black and white photos of unhappy people and squalid settings, illustrating our current love for Deep Irony. Give me color, beauty, and joy every time. It doesn’t paper the world over or make me unfit for facing a rotten environment/government/job, but it gives me hope and vision to carry on with.


s.e. 03.01.05 at 12:58 am

“Sure, I guess they made me think, but that’s something I try to do anyway.”

When you read a book, do you read it only for content? Do you read every book merely as a textbook or a manual?

When I read Shakespeare I think of myself as reading a story; as listening in on someone else’s conversation (and being a little guilty about it); as watching a craftsman at work; as feeling emotions I would not otherwise be feeling (or as watching myself being manipulated into feeling those emotions); as being in a museum of the Elizabethan world, and a museum of human behavior in all periods.

The Gates are not that interesting, but they’re not bad. They’re big budget popular art. What amazes me is that it is possible in this country to get an advanced degree in the humanities and know nothing about the ways and means, the function of culture.


Alan K. Henderson 03.01.05 at 9:20 am

It’s kitsch. But guys who spend $21 mil on kitsch are good for the economy.


hick 03.03.05 at 5:29 pm

Another Christo insta-monument. At least it didn’t kill anyone as did his flimsy umbrellas north of LA.

Comments on this entry are closed.