Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Gates in NYC

Pop culture quiz: When is a curtain not a curtain? When it’s art, of course. When is an orange curtain art? When artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude get a hold of it, that’s when. They prefer “saffron” to “orange” and “gate” over “curtain,” but once these details are settled, the rest is up to the beholder. Such is the beauty of art.

A recent PBS documentary on Christo and Jeanne-Claude made The Gates seem approachable to even the most skeptical art novice. When asked the meaning of The Gates, the pair joyously proclaimed, “It means nothing! Nothing!” Perhaps the former Seinfeld writers are involved in their PR campaign, “Come to Central Park to see…nothing!”

But when you get there and see the saffron Gates, nothing suddenly becomes something. Walking along streets leading up to Central Park, you’ll spot the brightly colored banners waving through the trees. Immediately you are aware of everything around you that is orange: orange traffic cones, orange construction-site tarps, orange storefront signs. Already the art has changed the way you see. Orange fashion accessories seem to be more noticeable, from handbags and scarves to sneakers and dogs. Suddenly, you run the risk of your apparel clashing with the art and you wish you had reviewed the color-wheel to find orange’s complimentary colors.

After you enter the park under one of the more than 7500 gates, you see that the landscape has been transformed. The height and curves of rolling hills and paths are highlighted by the steel and fabric structures. If nothing else, this project has taken the brown-gray of a northeastern winter and set it ablaze. The unseasonably high temps have added to the overall warmer climate of the park and it shows on the faces of the visitors. Maybe they should have called it “Miles of Smiles” or “Smiles amid Saffron.”

At once you’ll hear the wind through the gates, snapping sometimes and then whistling. The light and breezes change their appearance moment by moment, so the art is always in motion, changing. Reflected light in ponds, glass windows and even puddles now have an orange hue.

The gates are separated in random groupings along 23 miles of Central Park’s walkways. One of the most impressive views of these “rivers” of color is from Belvedere Castle just south of The Great Lawn. A short walk from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side, the Castle rises high above the park giving visitors a fantastic panoramic view. But The Gates are better appreciated from the ground, walking under them, seeing the light and sky changing overhead.

When the 16 day event is over, the park will return to its dull mid-winter coat. But it will be closer 16 days closer to spring blooms and greens. Already the Snowdrop bulbs (white, not orange) are pushing through the ground atop the hill at Belvedere Castle. After 16 days, will The Gates be proclaimed a success in the art world? Critics and fans might actually agree on this one, “It was nothing to get excited about.”


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