I’m in Central Park when I have this thought. Ok, sildenafil remedy so maybe it’s a bit random in that regard, malady but if you’ve had your news beagle nose clued to the tube or the rags or the World Wide Web, you may know of “The Gates”. They’re calling it an ‘art installation’ and it was conceived by that wrapping fiend—though wrapping isn’t his only tilt—Christo. Wrapped coast, wrapped Reichstag, wrapped this, wrapped that.
Initially, when I approached the park and caught a glimpse of a saffron flash through the trees, my first instinct was to recoil in horror. Then I got closer. Then I actually entered the park. Wandered and pondered for a bit. This ain’t nothin’ special. Blah. I churned my legs up cedar hill and down toward the duck pond and great lawn. Snapping photos. Mechanical. Not really feeling it. Thinking being here was more an obligation to artistic absorption than a ‘must see’.
As I got closer to the bottom of the hill at the duck pond, I turned around. And that’s when the sun smacked me through one of the curtains and said, “Look at this gate, ain’t she a pretty minx?” And I had to agree. In fact, the more I loped around, the more I warmed up to it.
From some viewpoints, it’s not that appealing. Militaristic gates standing in formation and looking starkly rigid in their outlook. Then you hit a run of them from a different angle and the breeze catches a curtain at the same time as ol’ sunshine and you go, “Ooh la lah. Do you come here often?”
I stand under a gate to listen for a bit. See if it will speak to me. It makes me think about sheets hanging on my Mum’s washing line. A ruffle, then a flap and snap as it gets caught by the wind and scribbles its secret message in the air. Even the texture of the material is getting in on the song. Each time a corner is whipped up to roll across the surface of the curtain, it’s as though a wave is stumbling in on a pebbly beach.
It must be nice to have the ping-pongs to do something like this on such a grand scale. I mean forget the money for now. Because we all know $21 million is a lot of note, no matter whose exchange rate you’re mapping to. But putting yourself out there on the slab, letting people hate something you’ve created, is gutsy. Isn’t it? Just putting it out there to see how people react. Hate. Adore. Don’t give a fig. Don’t get it. Get it? How about ‘get it’ out of my park. Love it. Smile. Frown. Rage.
You can’t get past the $21 mil, right?
Hey, at least it’s public. At least it didn’t cost me a dime or a cent or a penny or a shekel. Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, paid for it with the sale of the drawings Christo has been making of his vision for the last however-many years. And at least no gallery can buy the whole thing and put it in the foyer. It’s 23 miles long.
Face it—it’s only in the park for two weeks. If it were more long-term, I would probably react differently. I wouldn’t want the art that is Central Park in itself to be compromised long term. But for now, against the grey of the trees and the naked blue of a winter sky, it’s perfect. And today, the sky is the bluest of blues and the sun is having a field day with the saffron.
I wonder what it would have looked like had the curtains been a different color?
Walk further. Halt. A silver car creeps through a crowd trying to cross a side road. It’s the Christo’s themselves with a police escort. Jean-Claude’s bright orange hair flashes like a lighthouse beacon from the interior, bouncing on the half-tinted windows like the gates themselves.
I am reminded of an interview I saw the day before. Jeanne-Claude, who is the voice of the Christo unit, said something like, “It has no meaning. It is just art.” And I thought then, as I do now, how sneaky and cheeky. She knows that people try to find meaning in everything. It has no meaning, it’s just art? What the hell is that?
What the hell is art anyway? And when is it spelt with a capital A. And is this really it? Is art (small a) just handicraft? Is Art (Big A) the stuff that’s supposed to thrill or irritate or enrage or all three? If art is art for art’s sake—made to incite the spicy rumblings of discourse and debate—does that make this Big A art or small a art?
Good, bad—who cares? I feel like I’m in a canoe on the mighty Ponderation River, trying to figure out which bank I should get out on. This means I’m thinking too much about it and I should just chill and let it wash over me.
Back to the action. It’s an art paparazzi field day. Everyone has a camera.
“Turn this way, gatey. Show us your hem. Flash a saffron hue. Give me angry, give me vulnerable. More, more!”
It’s funny to think that everyone will have the same pictures. Exactly the same. I stomp around, trying to find new angles. But let’s face it. 7,500 gates that look the same crouched on paths that everyone will walk on. Good luck trying to get a new angle.
But I don’t give up. I put one knee down on boggy ground. I don’t care. I climb icy rocks. In the back of my mind I know I’m not the only one doing this either. Oh, well.
Sitting on a chilly bench, I eavesdrop while my knee dries. One woman bemoans the fact that the gates are not what she expected. She thought the material would be longer, more ethereal and silky so New Yorkers—renowned for their good moods and skippedy-do-dah ways—could frolic beneath them and run their fingers through the draperies. Well, she didn’t put it exactly like that…but I’m telling this story, and that’s what it sounded like to my ear.
I look up. They could never have been made of silk. The material looks heavy because it needs to be. Silk and satin were probably killed stone dead by the word ‘tatterproof’, and nightmares of violent winds with destruction on their minds.
As to length, there’s that whole ‘vandals took the handle’ aspect to it, which is bound to come into play as the week drags on. Graffiti scribbles. Torn fabric. We’ll just wait and see. Each gate is 16 feet high. The bottom hem of each curtain is ever so slightly just out of the reach of my fingertips.
Pausing on top of a stone bridge, I look at a procession of gates below. One gate, a curtain to the stage behind it. And that one, a curtain to the stage behind that. And on and on. Who knew curtains could be so compelling?
But then—and you knew this was coming—I start drifting off and thinking about their future.
What will they look like when soaked with rain? Will kids kick footballs over them? Will dogs go nuts with 7,500 new leg-cocking locations? Will squirrels yearn to climb them but find them too slippery? Will someone be proposed to underneath one? Will young love be scotched on the rocks of a gate? Will I open a newspaper one morning and read that a drunken idiot climbed one and broke his neck when he, rather unsurprisingly, fell off? Will a young girl in a VW bug on 5th avenue rear-end a bus while trying to catch a glimpse of the art installation that is the Gates?
A tour group stops nearby. I know it’s a tour because the guide in the group carries a pole with what looks like a tennis ball impaled on the end. I wonder what they’re saying as the move from set-point to set-point.
“And here we have a saffron frame with saffron fabric billowing from it. Moving on. And here we have a saffron frame with saffron fabric billowing from it.”
I guess they talk about Christo. It can’t be all about the Gates. I mean, once you get past the cost and the stats, you’ve pretty much exhausted the facts and people need to make up their own mind after that.
Now let me caveat this next sentence with the following disclaimer: I am not saying ‘The Gates’ is in any way on a par with the Berlin Wall.
Anyway, remember when the Berlin Wall fell and people began grabbing chunks of concrete as souvenirs? I was just wondering—on the final day, will there be a BRING YOUR SCISSORS TO THE PARK DAY and we can claim a piece of fabric for ourselves? (Adhering rigidly to the newly erected ‘Don’t run with scissors’ signage posted next to the ‘De-poop* your dog’ signs, of course.) I only have a pair of nail scissors.
Here’s a number. 1.089 million. That’s how many yards of fabric there are. So…, um, when it’s all said and done where is that fabric all gonna go?
Eye patches? Bandanas? Will some be cut up to make finishing lines for marathons? Ribbons for politicians to cut in ceremonies? Numbers for the backs of Mets uniforms? Specialty underwear? Potholders galore? Thousands of highly visible, chic doggie coats? Hostel bedspreads? Curtains in asylums? Road work flags? This is probably all covered in one of those tours, but I’m not one for organized information gathering. Tours take commitment and I like to roam free like a surly buffalo.
What of each gate, as a unit? Will Bush send some to Iraq to distract insurgents? Or will some join the Peace Corp? Will one gate star in an iPod ad? Will one go to Hollywood, dreaming of stardom, only to end up in a porn film? Will another write a book “A Gate’s Tale” and describe the rampant steroid use among the installation? Will one do the lighting on a U2 on a world tour?
Will one gate be the muse for a musician? Will another hit the talk show circuit as a spiritual guru? Will fundamentalists burn some on a gatey pyre because they think the gates stand for communism or abortion or homosexuality or all three? Will people think the gates are sending out subliminal transmissions from the Florida Orange Board with the message, “Eat more Navels”?
How long before the Madison Avenue advertising brainiacs latch on and use one to advertise a phone company, or vitamin C, or erectile dysfunction?
Ok, ok. I could go on. But I’ll spare you the inner workings of my brain and get back to the crux. The Gates. Something or nothing?
This is how I see it.
Central Park was the very first thing I fell in love with in New York. So, if I think of Central Park as my current boyfriend, ‘The Gates’ is the equivalent of him shaving his head for a dare. I notice it every day for a few weeks, and all our friends mention it often, but then his hair grows back.
Central Park’s hair will grow back and people will have discussed if it’s art or rubbish, and had arguments and thoughtful dialogue. Two whole weeks of talking about something that’s not as pointless as Brad and Jen and Michael Jackson. And if for no other reason, that’s why I think I’m falling on the side of ‘it’s something’.
Toodle-Noo. Here endeth the missive.
*This is the first time I have written the word poop in a noos. It’s a banner day.
PS: In case you really are curious, The Gates, and all that goes into their being, will be recycled.
©Janeen McCrae 2005