Hilton Kramer, and his assault on the poor, harmless gates (linked from ArtsJournal today)…I really have to laugh. Of course the guy’s a long-time curmudgeon, but he doesn’t say a thing about what’s wrong (in his view) with this Christo/Jeanne-Claude artwork — just that they’re a “defacement” of Central Park, an “assault on nature,” and a “wanton desecration of a precious work of art.” In these last two points, he’s incoherent, since the “wanton desecration” comes about because Central Park is a masterpiece of landscape art, which means the gates can hardly be an “assault on nature,” since the park — created by landscaping — isn’t wholly natural.
Mainly, though, the gates are coming down after February 27! So why bother if you hate them? Others love them, and they’re going away. Of course, Kramer’s real issue is the state of art, as he perceives it, and the crime (in his view) of considering anything like this art…but that’s an old tired argument. Let’s forget about it.
Today I finally saw The Gates. Walked through Central Park on a gray day, with snow looming. I loved them. They’re festive, even in today’s weather, and surely more so with sun on them. They make the park smile, or add a special smile to it. It’s a little like the feeling you get when you show up for a lavish outdoor party, with a tent pitched on a lawn, and maybe banners or flags flying. That’s what The Gates do for Central Park, something really fun, and also temporary (which is part of why it’s fun).
But there’s more. As you walk along the walkways in the park, with the gates over them (with gaps, sometimes, which makes them not at all routine, even when you’re used to them), you see other lines of gates curving elsewhere. So you’re aware of more than just the gates you’re near. Soon I realized I was seeing what I began to call the circulatory system of the park, the many paths and walkways that curve through it. Of course I’ve always known they’re there. I’ve been walking on them since I was a child. But I’ve never been so clearly aware of them. The park took on a new kind of life.
And then the gates are alive. They catch the sunlight, if there is any, and they flap and billow in the wind. If there’s enough wind, you hear the flapping. And the wind patterns surprised me. At one point, I saw a row of gates ahead of me flapping lustily, when all the other gates around them were hardly moving. The gates bring the winds of Central Park alive; they make visible something that’s always there, but that before now there wasn’t any way for anyone to see. (“Visible” isn’t quite strong enough; they make the wind almost physically tangible.)
Then finally there’s the color scheme — the orange of the gates floating over all the other colors in the park, especially the colors of the clothes that everyone is wearing. The “saffron” — as Jeanne-Claude and Christo like to call the color of their work; I’d just say “orange” — turns out to be a savvy color choice. All the other colors, blues and reds especially, seemed deeper, and more physical.
In all these ways, The Gates transform the park. They make you see and feel it differently. That’s art enough for me.