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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

February 11, 2005
ABOVE: One of many artist's renderings of The Gates project. Photographic rendering by Wolfgang Volz.

Rome wasn't built in a day - and neither was the much-publicized project in New York's Central Park known as The Gates. When internationally renown artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude first presented the project it was the year 1979, but it isn't until this year that it will finally be realized. Somewhat ironically, the project is now called "The Gates, New York 1979 to 2005".

Two years after its conception, the project was officially rejected by the authorities responsible for Central Park in 1981. For twenty years the concept lingered, isolated in Christo's remarkable illustrations, disconnected from reality. As Christo and Jeanne-Claude's careers continued, the project became almost mythical. The artists insisted that they remained dedicated to the concept, but it was not before a friend of theirs, Michael Bloomberg, was elected mayor of New York, that the project was finally accepted. In 2003 Christo and Jeanne-Claude were given approval, but before installation could begin the Central Park Conservancy had to be persuaded. The Conservancy, charged with the protection of the park's plants and animals, accepted the limited environmental impact of the project and gave their approval as well. The stage was finally set for The Gates to open.

When conceived in 1979, the project consisted of 1000 gates, draped with coloured fabric panes. When the assembly begins on February 7th (weather permitting), there will be 7500 pieces in all. Seven thousand, five hundred fabric-bearing rectangular metal arches rising 16 feet above the ground, snaking a golden path along 23 miles of Central Park for 16 days and nights in February. [For technical specifications, check out this site.]

The installation, a collection of individual pieces replicated in a dramatic strand of fluttering saffron aprons, perfectly represents the abstract yet utilitarian vision of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who emigrated and established permanent esidence in new York in 1964.

The individual gates, with a width varying from 6 to 18 feet will follow the edges of the walkways and will intersect perpendicularly with the selected 23 miles of footpaths in Central Park. Free- hanging saffron colored fabric panels, suspended from the horizontal beam crossing at the top of the gates, will reach to approximately 7 feet above the ground. The design, which allows enough room to comfortably walk through and under the gates, will give the project a towering presence, the panels looming just overhead, swaying with the wind. The gates will be spaced at intervals of between 10 and 15 feet, allowing the synthetic woven panels to wave horizontally towards the next gate, in windy weather creating the impression of a surrealists' covered archway.

As the project is envisioned, the light will have an astonishing effect on the color of the panels - the sun will cover the park in amber fire, and during sunset the walkways will entwine the park structure like perpetual golden serpents. For three and a half months last year the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a special exhibition on the project, also entitled "The Gates, New York 1979 to 2005". Photographs from throughout the years of the project allegorize the slow passage of those years and the endless commitment and patience: Christo and Jeanne-Claude meeting with this or that commissioner, civic eminence, this community board, steadily explaining and slowly growing older with each photo. Taken in at a distance, The Gates has clearly been a monolithic undertaking, and Christo has affirmed as much in his remarks about the project.

"All the 24 years," Christo has said, "that is a work of art." The Gates' realization comes at a precarious time for Americans and New Yorkers specifically, but the artist is that it had nothing to do with spiritual compensation for the terrorist attacks of September 11th. "We do not build messages... We build for beauty... I wish to create 'The Gates' as a work of art and not a reflection of any national or international event... I will never, never do something as a message. I do it because I like to do it."

Christo and Jeanne-Claude covet the artistic freedom to create their installations purely as they envision them, and the a major key to that freedom comes from financial control of the projects. Neither New York City nor park administrators will bear any of the expenses, which is always the case with Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects, The Gates will be entirely financed by the artists themselves through the sale of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models, earlier works of the fifties and sixties, and original lithographs on other subjects.

True only to themselves, no sponsorship of any kind is accepted, adding another layer of depth to their projects. For The Gates, a budget of between $20 and $24 million was estimated, and the project was of particular interest to Mayor Bloomberg; another stipulation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects is that there will be no volunteers. Everyone who works, with the exception of Jeanne-Claude's mother, is paid. Earnings range from normal union wages for specialized professional workers to just above minimum wage for non-skilled workers. From beginning to end The Gates will provide employment for thousands of New Yorkers in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and removal of the gates and the fabric used.

If you're in New York today, be sure to visit Central Park for a breathtaking spectacle. After 26 years in the making, the entire installation of The Gates will remain in the park or only 16 days.

For more artwork related to The Gates and other projects, visit Christo & Jeanne-Claude's official website, The Gates' official project website, and a Special Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

--
Samuel Klaus
Samuel Klaus, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is a legal expert and a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Samuel Klaus.

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