Skip to comments.Christo’s Gates: A Transcendent Experience
Posted on 02/21/2005 4:01:06 PM PST by Republicanprofessor
We caught our first glimpse of the Gates from our taxi up Central Park West. Already I was drawn in and fascinated. At each opening into Central Park, Christo has extended his initial gates, already welcoming you in. On roads into the park, there are sometimes city police or other vehicles. But on the quieter paths, only a trail of orange draws you in.
The orange, or saffron color, is wonderful: like the warm light of the beginning or end of the day, it glows in light or in dusk. It shimmers through the woods in the distance, winding around Olmsteads paths, highlighting the intricacy and power of the park. It contrasts with the blue sky, the white sun and the snow.
The gates ebb and flow throughout the park. They are not continuous, but pop up in sometimes-unexpected places; atop a knoll there are a few, barely discernible gates through the wood, urging you to come and explore. They are lined beside the icy ponds, golden reflections echoing their forms. They wind away ahead of you, pause, and then continue; they stop behind you, just before a bridge, and underneath a new line on the road above you. There are three or four lined up here or there, accenting the skyscrapers rising behind them.
There are several experiences of these gates. First, from a distance (on foot, in car or bus) they call you to the park. Then they loom above you, the bright orange flapping at seven feet, just above your head, and then another lies ahead of you, and another, leading you onward. Visitors see the poetry of the gates; almost every one has a camera; rarely have so many pictures been taken on one day in the park.
These days may be cold and frosty days, but thousands flow through the gates. Other paths in NJ and NY are empty. But Central Park is full of murmuring, amazed visitors, faces aglow like the gates themselves.
By the model boat pond, another miracle is at work. More visitors and telescopes are here, as tourists and residents alike search for the red tail hawks, Pale Male and his mate, at their nest across on 5th Avenue and 74th Street. Occasionally one can see them soar as they search for food: now for love offerings, later for the goslings that will come.
The form of these gates is perfect. From internet pictures or the drawings by Christo, the forms look stiff and uninviting. But Christos own drawings were more technical and hardly did justice to the brilliant saffron of his gates. This fabric is perfectly pleated, to better billow in the wind above ones heads. The gates are the ideal size: at seven feet, they are monumental but do not dwarf the strollers. One feels grand walking through, like a king and his entourage. You look up: there is a huge brilliant sheet of color, and then more and more stretched ahead for your own enjoyment.
There are Eastern influences: the gates remind me of Japanese war banners and the Great Wall of China. But the wall has been broken, dissolved, made transparent and reconstructed so that we can pass through its invisible essence. It is like Christos Running Fence but more accessible, so that you can walk in and around and under that wonderful warm fabric. The color is as carefully chosen as the pink for the Biscayne Bay islands. The orange is like a Hunters orange: visible from a distance, but turned to a ceremonial and spiritual purpose.
Internet friends kindly answered my request about the best points from which to view the gates. I would like to broaden those suggestions and to say that almost everywhere is a great spot to view the pieces: from up close, from a distance, and, most particularly, as you walk through them.
For, like most Minimal and Earth Art, this piece is best experienced in person. And, unlike most Minimal Art (where the artist writes for pages about a leaning piece of steel), Christo has written remarkably little about this. He allows us to think and feel ourselves. He professes no great ideals; but the experience is all, and like Turrells Roden Crater, such experiences can give us such a deep sense of peace and joy that, if we are open to it, they can change our lives. For attitude is all.
What is the piece about? Above all, it is about an enjoyment of life: to feel and see and be alive. This is shown by all the thousands of visitors, almost every one with a camera, amazed at the view, snapping away. With the new cameras today, it must be nigh impossible to take a bad picture of the gates.
One needs most of all to experience the piece: to see the different vantage points, the way the fabric looms over you, billows as you walk beneath, as another rises to take its place. You see stark branches in silhouette and shadows upon the sheets, the sun shining through and down upon them, the snow falling around a softer glow. Each day, each light, each wind, each effect of snow or rain will be different. You could walk every day and see something different. The work is about our experience of our own lives: each day and moment is different and needs to be enjoyed to its utmost. If you open yourself to the simple joy of these gates, they in turn will open you up to new dimensions of living.
Yes, it sounds too good to be true. And perhaps this is one persons view. All I know is that I had thought Id go and see why these Gates did not seem to work (in internet views) as well as the Fence or Islands. I proved myself entirely wrong; and from my first taxi view, we had the most wonderful (although chilly) day exploring these glowing trails.
Most of all, the experience is limited in time, like most of the best experiences of our lives. The gates will live in memory far longer than in Central Park. It is indeed a transcendent work of art, in all the best ways, and we are indeed lucky that after twenty-five years of planning, it finally came into existence. I believe in the future that those lucky enough to have seen the gates will share this very special connection (in a way similar to but opposite from 9/11). In fact, it is probably paramount that this work came into existence after 9/11; perhaps it is one (of many) healing experiences New Yorkers have needed since then.
My photos included below.
If you haven't seen them, and if you can get to NYC in the next 5 days to do so, you won't regret it.
The finest collection of superfluous outdoor tangerine shower curtains I have ever seen. Breathtaking.
Orange sheets on poles.....that isn't art....I'm sorry.
I'm hanging out my red shower curtains on the clothesline tomorrow you think the press will cover them.
I'm frustrated that I'm such a klutz that I can't get my images on line. Sorry.
Great description! I'd love to see them, but I don't think I'll be able to get up there.
I saw the Running Fence (in fact, I used to drive by it on a regular basis) many a long year ago. I scoffed at it at first, but the wonderful thing was that it really did make you look at the hills in a way you normally didn't bother to do. I think a lot of Christo's art is simply that he puts something in place that makes you see other things that were there all along - but that you never noticed.
This could be a shape, a line, a color. And somehow you've walked by it every day without noticing it, until suddenly...
I couldn't see the photos, btw. Did you post them? Thanks!
Perhaps Christo can finance the next Presidential Inaugural so we won't have to hear the liberal whining about moeny which could be better be spent on the Iraqis or others in need.
Try to open your eyes and mind a bit. Contemporary art is difficult, but this is so much better than most. You really have to be there. That's why I wanted to post this as soon as I could upon return home.
Thank you RP for your posting and your photos. I too would encourage everyone who can, to get down to Central Park and experience it for yourself.
Central Park on Sunday was alive. Alive in the dead of Winter with people, and with the Gates.
From Central Park South up to 114th Street, there were masses of people, all kinds of people, families, children, people who came from all over the tri-State area and all over the world.
Everyone talked to each other, and shared their thoughts. Many admitted they had come with an attitude, sure they would hate the Gates. Almost all went on their way smiling.
Seeing the Park and the Gates,one can't separate one from the other, in the fading sunlight, from all different perspectives was a delightful feast for the eyes and imagination.
Depending one's taste, (or lack thereof), one might call them nice decorations or ornaments.
But it isn't ART by any means.
I say this as someone who makes a living as an artist who appreciates true artistry and/or craftsmanship in a wide variety of media and never had to take a dime of public money or litter the countryside with fabric to do so.
Christo doesn't take public money. He raises all the money himself to put these installations into public spaces.
Forgot to mention - hotels have been full in New York for the last week and will be full until the Gates are taken down, because people have come from all over the country and the world to see it. I assume NYC pays for the police, the clean up, etc., but the city is making a lot of money on this exhibit.
I'd like to see them in person, they look pretty cool. I don't see any pictures.
I may be totally wrong but I'm confident that I will be quickly corrected if I am. Christo is so admired that he doesn't need for any of his truly awesome efforts or "works of art" to be paid for by John Q Public. I am always interested in what he does.
And I don't regret it for an instant.
Got some help and got three images up. Have many, many more; it's so hard to choose.
No thanks. I'll take Monet, Degas and Renoir every time. Arranging fabric on the landscape to me is just so much self-indulgent silliness.
Yes, I understood that there was no tax money in this particular installation. Wasn't aware that he had NEVER taken ANY public money... Was under the impression he got a good wad of taxpayer money for one of the things he did on the west coast..
My apologies for not being absolutely clear ... I just have a general disdain for "artists" that can't make a living without government.
Thanks for the aerial view. Did you take those yourself? I wanted to get to the Met roof top garden for a view, but the line was way too long, and I was too anxious to get out there myself to walk.
Once I know that, I'll know better how to proceed...
21 million and counting.
I find Monet's waterlilies equally transcendent. I could look at them forever. But this brought my whole body into the artwork. And maybe a million other bodies too.
Excuse my ignorance: who is Frank Rich? Why does his opinion matter? (Or is there some sarcasm I missed?)
I see cakeboys in the Brambles.
Looks cold...the rowing pond (do they still have little boats?) looks frozen.
I like the gates btw?
At least no one was killed this time where they?
The crowds and the atmosphere were great. The only time I thought the art was interesting was when a breeze happened. I liked it then.
Ya. I quite like it myself.
Perhaps we have a different conception of what art is. You view it as something that should get people to exercise. I view it as creating beauty and awe with their talents. And I don't believe you need new kinds of art for a new age...this reminds me of the "new math" fiasco and "whole language" that were foisted on America's school children because we had to "modernize" education.
The curtains and lilypads of Cristo in my opinion will be seen as a temporary novelty whereas the Old Masters' creations will be cherished for a long time to come.
Frank Rich is the Arts Editor for the New York Times.
He is far more likely mount a rant about Dick Cheney in his Sunday column than to praise (or diss) Christo's Gates.
And, yes, I should have included a < sarcasm> tag...
I saw them last week, traversed Cental Park twice on foot. I thought the gates very nice. I do consider them "art," and good art at that. Not sure about "very good."
OTOH, I put them in the category of interior decorating (also art), albeit interior decorating outdoors - exterior decorating, I guess. Actually it looks like a lot of flags and banners, gives a medieval fete kind of impression on a grand scale, if anything.
While in Manhattan, I also stopped by the Dahesh, the Hispanic Society (to see the Sorollas) and the Met. I have to say that Christo's work isn't at all on the level of the greats of the art world that are found in other parts of NYC (including many of the buildings). But seeing the Christo stuff is a one time thing, it's worthwhile for sure.
Ping. Thanks for your recommendations.
I, too, went to the Met that day, and the Museum of Natural History. Needless to say, we didn't spend long at the main museums (which we can visit any time in the future for any length of time). I wanted to experience the Gates instead.
My criteria for art is form and content. Does the form express the ideas the artist has, and not in a cliched, been-there-done-that style? Monet is great; but those who imitate his style today don't have that sense of exploration and discovery. He was ridiculed at first as well. Often other artists are the first to ridicule those whose styles are new, different, and threatening. (An idea from Leo Steinberg in his Other Criteria.)
Yes, the Gates are definitely cool, and it's also true that the stuff in museums is there any time you want to see it.
I stopped into NYC after a trip to Syracuse with the specific intention of hitting a couple museums. I'd forgotten the Christo thing, it was an added bonus, lots of fun. My daughter has made a trip since, just to see the Gates. She acquired a piece of the fabric which was being given out somewhere.
You are right about not imitating the old masters - they themselves did not "imitate" those who went before them, although they certainly took things from and took time to learn from earlier masters. They built on what went before without imitating, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
As for modern art, I have nothing against abstract art, since even the old masters stuff is abstract, once you break it down to the basic elements. And even the old masters would have told us that simply reproducing something accurately is not enough. If it were, then every schlep with an instamatic camera would be a great artist - which they are not.
OTOH, IMO, the modern(e) art world often seems kind of like the emporer with no clothes to me.
By your very definition: "creating beauty and awe with their talents" the gates could qualify... while you may disagree they caused that reaction for myself and many others.
I do agree that "new" doesn't necessarily mean "good," but we can't just sit around and copy Monet for the rest of eternity!
Art, in my opinion, shouldn't just be beautiful, but should say something to the viewer, make them think in a new way. The gates certainly accomplish that goal for many visitors, and I commend the artist for that.
Delightful description, professor.
I respect your opinion and credentials; however, as one who dabbles in art, I'm afraid that I do not agree.
From Christo's curtain across a gorge, to his running fence, to umbrellas stuck in the ground, my belief is that Christo's work belongs to a very select genre of artist - that being a con artist.
That said, it's fine with me that some folks enjoy the works.
I guess I just don't appreciate modern art.
Close. Golden Horde. Mongol camp. Barbarians at the Gates of Rome (New York, USA). Painfully obvious.
Painfully obvious that I have no idea what it's about but my interpretation is at least provocative.
Is it supposed to look garish?
It seems to have stirred a passion in you that has gone beyond the exhibit. Something every artist strives to do. Good for him and for you.
LOL! It's been a while for you hasn't it? :o)
I am hoping to see them before they go....I happen to love Christo.
This "art" does nothing but obscure what is truly beautiful - the park. Olmstead is the artist here, not Christo.
I love the fact that he and Jean Claude were born on the same day, have the same passion for his art and have stayed in love for all these years. La ve a belle!
Jean Claude is a man's name. Christo's wife is Jeanne-Claude :-)
Et la vie est belle, aussi. 8~)