February 10, 2005

Christo's mammoth art project "The Gates" in Central Park

Fourteen years ago I drove up highway 5 from San Diego to the grapevine area north of Los Angeles, in order to witness the visual splendor of thousands of 20-ft tall shiny gold umbrellas dotting the landscape like trees for miles around, on hills, in valleys, and even next to a gas-station and Burger King.

Why? Well, I just HAD to see it. A project of such a vast scale is something you need to see, in person, to really get. I could describe it in any number of ways but to really understand what the hell Christo is up to when he rolls out one of his legendary art installations, is to simply get there and see it.

His philosophy is simple: It is art for its own sake. Wrap a building, wrap a bridge, raise a curtain across a canyon, run a bright fabric fence over 50 miles of hills into the ocean. Surround an island in pink plastic. Better, a series of islands. Stand back and check it out.

"So THAT'S what it would look like if I could wrap the Reichstag in a million square feet of silvery fabric, and 3 miles of blue rope! ... Huh!!"

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I can't find this film at Netflix of course, but a German documentary of the Reichstag project was made called "The Reichstag Wrapped":

"More than five million visitors, a once in a-lifetime event for Berlin, convincing proof of what art can still achieve today: visionary thinking as a gigantic, quickly transitory manifestation, art as a public festival, a media spectacle, the catalyst for a rare passionate political and aesthetic debate."
- Review at GermanCinema.de

His method is "simple" too. Conceive the idea, propose the idea for 5 to 25 years until the powers that be are satisfied that you won't destroy their town/building/bridge/bay, sell all your drawings, sculptures, collages and schematics of the proposed project to raise the necessary funds, and then execute the installation for 3 to 20 days, at no cost to the city/province/port, at which point you take it all down and go home. Publish a book. Don't have a surname. You're a star.

Christo's latest project, although this has by far taken the longest path to fruition, is "The Gates" in New York's Central Park.

I would say, "try to imagine..." but as I mentioned earlier it's not exactly the same.

But for giggles: Over 7000 "gates" draped with saphron colored fabric billowing in the breeze, spaced over about 23 miles of pathways throughout Central Park. Thousands of volunteers are putting it up as we speak, and in 2 weeks they'll be taking it all down. Check this map:

Map of Central Park and the trail of Orange Gates

If you are anywhere in the Northeast in the next couple of weeks make it a point to visit New York's Central Park. Really. You'll tell your grandkids about it, I swear.

This article in the NY Times - yes, free registration required just do it already - tells you more about this project.

But if you want a really good retrospective look at Christo's legacy, and you've already registered with the NY Times because I just told you to, CLICK HERE

One last thing. All these projects are actually collaborations between Christo and Jeanne-Claude, his equally surnameless life partner. These projects are in no way just the product of "Christo" or "Jeanne-Claude" but are more properly attributed to "Christo and Jeanne-Claude."

From their website:

"Christo and Jeanne-Claude have donated the merchandising rights to the charitable foundation "NNYN" (Nurture New York's Nature and Arts) who are sharing these rights with The Central Park Conservancy.

Neither New York City nor the Park administration shall bear any of the expenses for The Gates."

This is all they do. They raise every dollar for the project by selling scale models, lithos, diagrams, etc in the formulation stage of the project. For The Gates in New York they are spending over $20 million. And they NEVER accept sponsorship money for their works. I'd love to sit and have a beer with them one day.

Check out their website:



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