Jesse Jarnow

the gates

This afternoon, after a minty-fresh visit to my dentist on Central Park West, I passed through Christo’s fabled Gates just south of Tavern on the Green. I walked to the Sheep Meadow and wended my way through the southern tip of what Rem Koolhaas called “synthetic Arcadian carpet grafted onto the Grid.” This arcadia is my arcadia, indeed. It was a glorious afternoon, sun glancing perfectly over every conceivable surface, illuminating them with postcard precision: hot dog stands, ducks on half-frozen ponds, cyclists, midtown secretaries out for cigarette strolls on their lunch hours, even horse shit. It was almost unbearably picturesque.

But I must admit to being fairly baffled – disappointed, I think – by the Gates themselves. Most certainly, there are many qualities about the work that I admire. Public environmental art can be astounding, especially in Manhattan, which absorbs weirdness with a natural ease. A large aspect of the Gates, I think, is the way it forces people into interaction with their space and the people around them. Christo has said that one can’t really understand the piece without walking through it. There’s a certain amount of truth to that, of course, but mostly it seems like a New Age excuse. The potential for a public art project spread across the entirety of Central Park, interacting/playing/dialoguing with Frederick Law Olmstead’s sweeping Arcadian landscapes is so unbelievably vast, so incredibly rich, that it is a true shame that Christo and Jeanne-Claude didn’t do more with it.

Simply, the Gates follow the park’s existing walkways, pulling them out of the environment like an ink pellet through varicose veins. And that’s nice and all. Pleasant. But why do they have to follow the park’s proscribed paths? Why can’t they take the viewers on little journeys, dips off the beaten trails, winding through the faux-wilderness to small, Zen conclusions? Why shouldn’t they play with scale, increasing the size of dimensions of the Gates to create Wonderland-like optical illusions? The Gates, uniform in their abrupt day-glo orange are astounding in their repetition. That is quite pretty. Yes, yes. But why that color orange? It doesn’t seem to relate to its surroundings at all — not the glass and concrete boxes surrounding the park, not the bare trees, not the snow-fortified mud. And, if the point is for people to go out and interact with them, why the middle of fucking February when the public (remember them?) will be lucky to get one or two nice days to check it out?

The Gates feel very much like a gentrified happening, a much deeper bureaucratic achievement than aesthetic one. I had a wonderful time walking through them, but only because I was astounded (as I always am) by Law’s vision of Central Park. I imagine the Gates would be a lot prettier right about now (approaching 3:30 in the morning), their shapes looming like a massed army of shadows in the park’s peculiar, still nightmare-infested darkness. Perhaps I’ll go back sometime.

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