Saturday, February 26, 2005

My experience at The Gates

I lived in NY for 25 years, until 1997 when I moved to the San Francisco
Bay Area. I come back from time to time, but having missed California's
Running Fence, I wanted to return for The Gates. Here's the report I sent
to my teen-age son.

When I first saw it, driving by Saturday night in a cab, I wasn't
impressed. I thought I wouldn't like it. It looked industrial, like
someone had installed a factory in a landscape. Then later, when I walked
around at night, I still wasn't crazy about it. But I did realize it made
me look at Central Park differently. I was aware of how the paths snaked
around, and where all the trees were. I did notice lots of people walking
around, which is rare in February, but even rarer on a 20 degree night.

Sunday, I got up and at 8:30 I took a cab up to 100th Street to run with an
old friend. Driving up Central Park West, the orange banners flapping in
the wind seemed bright and cheerful, like pieces of sunshine.Then when I
was standing around waiting for my friend, I got to walk around and under
the gates, and it made me a little happy.They're really solidly engineered,
indestructible, with a pretty light fabric that billows in the wind.
Sometimes I could can stand in a place and see them going off in every
direction. They made a gray/brown park feel a bit summery. That night it
snowed; the next day, against a white background, they still stood out

So I decided I liked The Gates as objects and images. But what really made
me like them more was three other unique ingredients.

First, people. The avenues are teeming, with everyone out on the streets
around the park, strolling, gawking, smiling. Lots of people with cameras,
mostly digital. Not just the out-of-towners. Today everyone is a tourist,
posing and snapping away, playing and looking at their pictures.

Second is the fact that it's the free expression of art, it's almost all
volunteer, and its meaning is whatever the participant sees in it. It
doesn't cost the city a penny: the $20 million cost is financed by the sale
of the artist's drawings. In fact it's a big money-maker for the city,
especially the hotels and restaurants, during the slowest month of the
year. Even the cynics were taken aback by a sign at the tables where
T-shirts, posters and post-cards were on sale: "Christo and Jeanne-Claude
will not derive any income from the sale of The Gates Merchandise. Proceeds
will benefit Nurture New York's Nature Inc. and the Arts, Central Park and
other New York City Parks."

Third, the vision. I think how it took Christo and Jeanne-Claude 26 years
to make this happen. They never gave up, they kept changing the plan to
meet objections and satisfy all the different decision-makers. It was their
Moby-Dick, the whale they never stopped looking for, and knew they would
someday meet. In the end, they got lucky: all the chips fell in their
favor. But they made it happen. It's really amazing to me that they were
able to realize their dream, and bring pleasure to so many people. Some of
the people who aim high succeed, and that's inspiring to me as I try in my
own way to change the world.

Felix Kramer


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a waste of money. $20 MILLION dollars can certainly feed a lot of starving children, go towards cancer research, or basically *any* other use for the money would be better than building a temporary exhibit just for the sake of art, of bringing people together, or to get folks to stay at hotels. If I want to see art, I'll go to an art gallery or a museum. I find it offensive that these monstrosities are allowed to degrade our public spaces. I'm not saying raising occupancy rates at hotels or bringing people together aren't admirable causes. (I believe causing controversy and getting people talking were goals in themselves). But come on... $20 *million* dollars? For THAT? For a couple weeks? Are you serious? I weep for our society...

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