brian lehrer wrestling with the lack of meaning issue / spoiler : ultimately he's seduced by the uplifting experience

NY mag : quiet! genius at work
- bill 2-15-2005 6:14 pm

there is some meat in this comment thread
- bill 2-17-2005 4:20 am [add a comment]

A Last Look at 'The Gates' Before They All Come Down

Published: February 28, 2005

"The Gates" near the Seventh Avenue entrance on Central Park South. Sunday was the 16th and final day for the project of 7,500 gates on 23 miles of Central Park paths.

Contrary to some reports, Jeanne-Claude's hair is actually a few shades darker than the Sunkist orange - er, saffron - of the million square feet of fabric hanging from "The Gates" in Central Park. It's more the color of carrot cake.

Still, she is unmistakable in a crowd. On a Sunday morning stroll through the art project in the park that she and her husband, Christo, designed, she could barely walk a few feet without attracting a horde of jacket-swaddled tourists.

"Why are you taking pictures of me?" Jeanne-Claude barked. "Turn around; look at the gates! I see only coats! I want to see gates!"

Art is long, and life is short, and city contracts are even shorter. The dismantling of the 7,500 gates was to start first thing today, and, Jeanne-Claude said, in keeping with her and Christo's agreement with the city, it all has to be gone by March 15. That schedule is fine with her. February was the only month the project would work, she said, when the trees are leafless and row upon row of color can be seen in every direction.

The dismantling will be easier than the installation because there will not be any need to be careful. The 5,290 tons of steel will be melted down and recycled - "The aluminum is going to become cans of soda," Jeanne-Claude says - and the fabric will be shredded and turned into carpet padding. Then all that will be left of "The Gates" will be the memories, and the T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, watches and baseball caps.

There will also be the coffee table book, as there is for most of their projects. Christo spent yesterday morning with Wolfgang Volz, the photographer, gathering pictures for the book.

Jeanne-Claude laughed, imitating her husband's orders to Mr. Volz: " 'I want that tree and that tree, but not that one,' " she said.

It was a bright sunny morning, but cold, and the park was crowded, considering the weather. There were the usual joggers, cyclists and Chinese wedding ceremonies, but also, of course, the New Yorkers and tourists coming for a first or last look.

Everywhere she walked, Jeanne-Claude was followed by a constant stream of thank yous and butchered mercis. She smiled back, but would not sign autographs and stopped for photographs only grudgingly. In a whisper, she explained that the gratitude was misplaced. The whole project, all $21 million of it, was of, by and for themselves, Jeanne-Claude and Christo. If the public happened to like it, well, that was a bonus. Any artist would tell you the same, she said.

So there is no weeping on her part for the end of "The Gates." It was a project that took the couple 26 years, sure, but as of Feb. 12, the day the gates were unfurled, the creativity was over. Then their days were filled with maintenance problems, sanitation issues, tours through the park with out-of-town visitors. Every day was packed, from 5 a.m., when they woke up, to that glass of Scotch before bed 20 hours later.

Now it is on to the next project: a plan to suspend several miles of fabric panels across the Arkansas River in Colorado. She began explaining, but broke off after a couple of sentences.

"Look at that over there," she said, pointing to a place where the fabric had turned peach in the glow of the afternoon sunshine, "and look over there," she said, pointing to a panel veined with the shadows of a tree. "They are two completely different colors." Out came her camera.

After a brief stroll on the edge of the Sheep Meadow, Jeanne-Claude returned to the car, a Mercedes Maybach on loan for a few weeks from DaimlerChrysler. She said she originally laughed at the idea of the Maybach - "We don't even own a bicycle" - but she clearly cannot get enough of the car.

Out of a side-door compartment, she fished a saffron-colored Band-Aid tin, and from the tin snatched a cigarette. An assistant came to the window with a report: Someone had cut hearts out of the fabric in four gates. It's always something; a few minutes earlier she pointed out a brand new gate, a replacement for the one that was hit by a taxicab. Was there much vandalism?

"Vandalism?" she repeated. "Cutting out hearts? It annoys us, but I can't call that vandalism."

Suddenly the door opened, and Christo tumbled into the back seat. Before the door closed, he was debating whether they had time to eat lunch, since it was the last day Mr. Volz could take pictures and had much more to do.

"We always eat in 12 minutes," Jeanne-Claude said.

"To the boathouse, quick, quick," Christo said to the driver.

During the ride to the boathouse, Christo and Jeanne-Claude constantly talked over each other, pointing in a hundred different directions: look at the colors over there, look how the shadows of the branches fall here, look how the wind plays with the fabric.

Like his wife, Christo said he was not bothered by the closing of "The Gates." That's what creating is all about, he said. You want to move on to the next thing.

- bill 2-28-2005 4:59 pm [add a comment]

Thanks. Yuck. On to screwing with the ecosystem of a Colorado river for the energetic couple.
- tom moody 2-28-2005 6:06 pm [add a comment]

ultimately i did not attend the "gates." i rationalize that decision with reasons similar to those i used avoiding the broadway show "cats."

- bill 2-28-2005 6:39 pm [add a comment]

Then you did not have your eyes opened to the beauty of the park, and I pity you.
- tom moody 2-28-2005 7:22 pm [add a comment]

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