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Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On the Way to The Gates, Central Park, New York City

Jonathan Fineberg and Wolfgang Volz

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2005
Category: Non Fiction


Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On the Way to The Gates, Central Park, New York City
by Jonathan Fineberg  and Wolfgang Volz

One very good test of a society’s attitude about the Arts — maybe the ultimate test — is how it treats the Ephemeral.

That is, how it regards art that’s of the moment…. substantial as feathers… likely to disappear (like life itself) without notice.

Here’s the Head Butler philosophy on ephemera: Cherish it. Because its truncated lifespan transforms creation from an object to a gift. Because its impermanence eliminates the get-rich-now impulse behind a lot of today’s music, movies, books and art. And, to bring it back to the creator, because its maker certainly knew his/her creation would not last — and made it anyway. Just because.

Such a work is “The Gates,” the latest project from Christo and his wife, Jean-Claude. By now, pretty much everyone has seen their stuff — they’re the people who “wrap” buildings and bridges and islands in brightly colored fabric, who erect fences that run for miles. And who, after weeks or months, remove their creation, and the site returns to whatever it was.

“The Gates” is historic because it’s Christo and Jean-Claude’s first project in the Media Capital of the World. They wrapped an island off Miami, built a fence along the California. But now they’re installing 7,500 18-foot high “gates,” each with a brilliant saffron-colored fabric flag, on 23 miles of walkways in New York’s Central Park. As I write (January 10, 2005), the bases have been set in place. Soon workers will swarm over the park to erect the gates and unfurl the fabric. Starting on February 12th, it’s ours to walk in, view from on high, discuss and debate. And then, on February 27th, workers return to the park, and “The Gates” will disappear.

Ephemeral? Not quite. The cost of construction is $20 million — not one penny from public funds. (Christo raises the money by selling drawings of the project.) That’s a lot of money, until you consider the fortune “The Gates” will generate for New York restaurants and hotels, and the immense PR boon for the city. Best estimate of this revenue: $70-80 million.

The New York Post — which has a perfect record on topics like this; that is, it’s always wrong — quotes Christo, who describes “The Gates” as ” totally irrational, irresponsible, useless, with no justification, with no reason to exist except we like it.” The Post, cloaking itself in High Purpose, declares Christo’s project as “just a little self-indulgent