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Great “Gates”: A Tribute to Christo, 84, Who Made Magic in NYC’s Central Park

Our loss yesterday of Christo, the canny conceptual artist with tangible appeal, is a poignant reminder of more innocent times—16 days in early 2005 when New Yorkers from all walks of life converged on Central Park for one peaceful purpose—to walk together basking in the luminosity of flowing canopies of saffron rip-stop nylon that were hung in a procession of some 7,500 frames.

Some 25 years from conception to reality, that improbable project—The Gates—was jointly realized by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, with a crucial assist from then Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who overrode previous objections and got the job on track.

L to R: Christo, Jeanne-Claude, Mike Bloomberg
Photo courtesy of Bloomberg Philanthropies

In a statement issued today, New York’s former mayor (who briefly sought the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination) offered this eulogy:

Today we lost one of the true visionary artists of our time, my friend Christo. Along with his partner Jeanne-Claude [who died in 2009], Christo conceived of projects that seemed unimaginable, and together they redefined what’s possible. His public works brought so many people together to experience them.

As one who was enraptured by that experience, I still cherish these souvenirs that hang in my apartment’s entrance corridor:

—a photo of the project as it appeared in Central Park…

…and a print reproduction of the project’s drawings:

But my favorite keepsake is attached to the bottom right of the drawings reproduction, above—a swatch (distributed free) of the vibrant material that enlivened the park:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

That fabric echoes the color not only of Jeanne-Claude’s hair (as you can see in the top photo), but also of my clerestory window’s Roman shades, a souvenir from the previous occupant of my apartment, Cuban salsa diva Celia Cruz:

As we apprehensively endure another jittery night in our troubled cities, one week after the horrific asphyxiation of George Floyd, I wonder whether New Yorkers, already besieged by the pandemic, will ever again feel that sense of serenity and joy that Christo imparted to us some 15 years ago.

In my Wall Street Journal article about “The Gates,” I had noted that the money-minded had been bent on financially exploiting the free-of-charge installation, trying to market the swatches that were distributed in the park, or to buy a group of the fabric-festooned frames for millions of dollars.

Christo had the last word on such desecrations of his and his wife’s intent. In a joint interview with Jeanne-Claude about “The Gates,” he told me this:

Nobody can buy this project. Nobody can charge tickets for this project, nobody can own this project—because freedom is an enemy of possession and possession is the equal of permanence.

That is why this project should go away…

…and so it did, as did (years later) its fondly remembered creators, whose loss we now mourn during this time of widespread grief.

an ArtsJournal blog