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Art For The Rest of Us
The Gates – Central Park, NYC
February 15, 2005
by Chris Orcutt

I’ve been a mild fan of the artist Christo for the past 10 years or so. More than anything I admired the scale on which he worked: wrapping entire islands off the coast of Miami or an entire building in Berlin takes considerable balls. I’ve seen pictures of his work and I know his idea (somewhat) is to draw attention to whatever he’s wrapping so that it can be seen it in a new kind of way, but that’s where it ended for me. Interesting, but in a theoretical sort of way.

Now I get it, and so can anyone else who spends an hour or two in NYC’s Central Park over the next 14 days. Christo (and Jeane-Claude, his partner) unveiled “The Gates” in the park yesterday, a project 25 years in the making, and it is really worth seeing. There are 7,500 16-foot gates draped in fabric installed along – get this – 23 miles of walkways in the park. 23 miles in a park that is roughly 2/3rds of a mile wide and about 2 ¼ miles long means a lot of these gates.

It’s an amazing thing to see. Once you’re close up and walking through them, you can see how incredibly thought out the whole thing is. The color of the fabric is just right: an orange that brightens the park on a winter day but not so much as to be overwhelming. When the wind picks up you can really kind of see it as it blows consecutively through the fabric of each gate. But, more than anything, you can see in the curvature of the gates along the paths how beautiful the park is and how the paths wind gracefully through it.

You don’t need to know anything about art to appreciate this installation. It’s amazingly impressive to see and walk through it, and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. I think the next two weeks in Central Park are going to be one of those amazing times in New York City where people drop their guard, make eye contact, smile, talk to strangers, and realize that we are all part of a the same thing. Usually it takes a catastrophe to bring people together – like the blackout – but today I noticed how I was able to make eye contact with people and how they usually smiled back instead of looking away.

By all means bring a camera. I generally don’t take pictures but thought for this I should maybe get a few shots. I started off trying to take pictures with no people in them but realized those shots just didn’t look good – all you could do is shoot upwards. Once I started aiming at ground level I noticed that just about every time I looked through the lens, I had a good shot lined up, which never happens. I considered coming again in the early morning so I could take pictures with no people and realized it would look awful, totally empty. The whole thing needs people for it to work. So I didn’t worry about strangers in my pictures, and got some great shots.

This really is art for the people. Consider this: every picture you take is a record of how the installation looked at that moment, from that angle, with the wind blowing through it from that particular direction, etc., so you are taking home a part of it that only you could possibly have. That sure as hell beats a $30 poster from the Met or the $20 it now costs to get into MoMA.

I know what a pain it is to get into Manhattan but truly this is a once in a lifetime event. Take the day off, park at one of the commuter rail stations, and take the train in. Once you see Central Park like this you’ll be amazed that you doubted coming in at all.

(Chris Orcutt is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

Christo and Jeanne Claude website

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