Where there are gates there must be gatekeepers

Where there are gates there must be gatekeepers

: Call me a cynic. Call me a philistine. You’ve called me worse.

But I don’t get The Gates.

Shower curtains on parade? Florida citrus product placement? Hare Krishna craziness?

I was early to CNN at Time Warner Center (aka Columbus Circle) on Sunday and walked to the park to see The Gates and The Tourists gaping. I just don’t get it. It’s one of those moments when New Yorkers, as if under mass hypnosis, ooh and ahh and act all cultural. And I, of the bridge & tunnel crowd, shrug. $20 million for this?

My wife asked what it’s supposed to mean. I quoted the artists: Nothing. It’s just art. That’s the phrase my son associates with the haughtiest blather on Studio 360: It’s just art, as if that explains away indulgence.

I wonder why the hell they didn’t do this in June when the weather’s nice. I wonder what the hell they’re going to do with all that saffron fabric (shower curtains?). I wonder why all these people come out to walk under cloth.

I should have stopped off on the way home to buy a velvet Elvis painting, suburban, cynical philistine that I am.

As I walked up, I thought — cynically — that I was sure to see orange T-shirts. No, they were blue with orange script, sold alongside The Gates travel coffee mugs (all the better to sip your Starbucks under the art).

I’ve seen no one else buck the oohing-and-ahhing crowd. Someone had to.


  • I liked it.

  • Surely “it’s just art” does explain away indulgence. I mean, what does Beethoven’s Fifth mean? What does a Serra sculpture mean?
    They didn’t do it in June because then there would be leaves on the trees and you couldn’t see the Gates as well. Besides, the weather is nice. It was a glorious sunny day today, in case you didn’t notice.
    They’re going to recycle the fabric. And the people come out because The Gates makes them happy. I’m sorry they didn’t make you happy, but hundreds of thousands of people think different. They’re not highfalutin snobs, they’re ordinary people who simply enjoy the spectacle. Christo is not a difficult artist to get.
    The t-shirts are a fundraiser for Central Park, a non-profit organisation. Christo allowed the Nature Conservancy to sell them to raise money. No harm done there. And why on earth shouldn’t people sip coffee under the art? Sounds like a lovely place to sip coffee to me. Better than the Time Warner Center bookshop.
    As for the $20 million, greg.org has doubts about that number. But even if it’s true, so what? It’s Christo’s money, he can spend it on what he likes.
    The Gates may or may not be great art: I don’t really care. But they do make people happy. And what’s more, these people are not being pretentious, certainly not the kids running around the park pointing out every new line of Gates they see. Maybe the Gates leave you cold. But you’re an exception. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that. It’s your emperor-has-no-clothes attitude which gets to me: it’s not enough to say that you don’t like the Gates, you have to imply that anybody who does is a poncy poseur. Which simply isn’t true.

  • I usually like Cristo’s work, but I don’t get the Gates, either.
    Now had he wrapped the Empire State Building in orange cloth, a-la The Reichstag, that would have been impressive.

  • Obviously, it’s a show of support for the Ukrainian electoral revolution!
    Either that, or it’s proof that Christo’s a brilliant self-promoter.

  • dan

    the christos’ work really isnt hard to get. this piece isnt much different.
    it isnt about anything. anything, that is, except for the place it exists in. and the people participating. all those people in the park. in transit to and from the park. people who wouldve never been in central park in the middle of february. if it had been pouring rain, there STILL wouldve bene massive crowds. people who under normal circumstances wouldve never even imagined going for a walk through the park.
    people who saw different parts of the park they never saw before, or never even knew existed.
    the gates are just those… gates. you walk through them, look through them, experience what is on either side of them, within them. maybe youll look through a gate and see soemthing framed that youve never thought of framing. in that way. maybe youll notice a building or a tree or a bird or a rock that you never noticed before.
    all to make the point that the next time you go back, it wont be the same. your memory of place has been critically altered. for better or for worse, thats not the point. just that its been changed. alternative perspectives. and so on.
    if you cant get THAT, well, keep writing about politics (which, by the way, are infinitely more boring).
    its really not such crazy or intense stuff. its life. interact with the people, navigate the space, be aware of your environment…. sometimes people forget to do those things. big saffron colored gates help remind. sometimes.
    other times they just make people say “what the hell did they do to my park.” it was never their park to begin with.

  • Perhaps it was this sort of thing that brought about Ben Stein’s recent epiphany.

  • “They didn’t do it in June because then there would be leaves on the trees and you couldn’t see the Gates as well.”
    There are plenty of tourists in NYC in June. February is when we need them.
    It’s only up for 2 more weeks, Jeff.

  • Barney Lerten

    I thought Jeff’s criticisms were fairly mild. As usual, milder than some of his critics;-)
    Here in Bend, Oregon, we’ve had lots of debate over the artwork scattered hither and yon by Art in Public Places (privately funded). After a bunch of criticism, they opened up part of the selection process to public input. (Lots of the art has gone in the middle of our many new roundabouts; one that was an orange bird, called “Phoenix Rising,” was dubbed the “Flaming Chicken.”
    It’s nice to have something fairly innoccuous like public art to argue about/debate. If only as a break from the everyday horrors and headaches;-)

  • too many steves

    Two questions:
    Whose $20m financed The Gates?
    What came about as a result of Ben Stein’s epiphony?

  • It looks to me like an attempt to put a little bit of Beijing in New York.

  • BladeDoc

    Art, not art, good, bad, whatever. I just want to know why it cost $20mill. I worked stagecrew in an earlier life. It looks to me like a bunch of 4X4’s, cloth, and some orange paint. I should’ve bid the contract.

  • John

    It’s meant to symbolize the inner peace that Bhuddist monks achieve when they hang out their laundry.

  • As some one who actually visited Christo’s big yellow and blue umbrellas (I was in California at the time), and enjoys the Gates, please note that it’s his money, it took him many, many years to get permission to do it, and as Yehudit notes, it’s all going to go away and things will be the same again. Your reaction can be positive, negative, neutral, but Something Happened to you.
    You may dislike what Dali was as a person, but don’t you love the Last Supper showing laundry marks in the tablecloth?
    Something works, something doesn’t, at least you have a reaction that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

  • Ric Locke

    Sometime in the 19th Century artists got in their heads that their point was to Shock the Sensibilities. That POV grew, and nowadays we’ve got thousands (at least) of hack artists who don’t have any command of technique and have to reach deeper to shock — Mapplethorpe, e.g.
    This? This is fun, it’s silly, it’s extravagant. It’s deliberately pointless. It’s a deliberate change of paradigm — one you should appreciate. It lets the viewer read into it whatever comes to mind, and whatever that is, is fine with Christo. Instead of Shocking the Sensibilities it nudges them off base a little, and lets the viewer correct that imbalance in whatever way seems appropriate to that person. Hey, you reacted pretty strongly to it. Seems to me he’s achieved Picasso’s directive, and not a scrap of flesh or drop of excrement in sight.
    And it’ll be gone soon. I used to have an aerial photo of a portion of Running Fence. It got water damaged, and after thought I threw it out, realizing that was part of the point.
    I like Christo. He spends money and effort on subtlety instead of sledgehammers. I wish I could have come to New York to see Gates.

  • richard mcenroe

    You’re missing an opportunity. Get down there at the entrance with a turnstile and a coinbox. They’re New Yorkers. They’ll pay out of force of habit.

  • Mike

    Amazing what passes for art. Someone spends 20 million dollars for some poles and cloth and the congratulations come from all around. Maybe I’m just not articstic enough to get it. But this seems more like an act of self-promotion than a display of art.

  • dires

    h.stern (not jeff’s radio guy, but a former NYC comissioner of parks) described it as “7000 shmattes”.
    i don’t get it either – central park resembles a buddhist monastery on a laundry day.

  • alex

    Christo typically pays for his installations himself, with money that he raises through the sale of his sketches of the proposed work beforehand. (Yes, people really will pay that much for his stuff) I haven’t seen the thing in actuality yet, so I don’t know how successful it is–but Christo isn’t the sort of artist who does things to deliberately perplex, offend, or elevate himself above his audience. Maybe the piece works and maybe it doesn’t, but I think the man deserves credit for making an art installation that’s meant to bring people together rather than to shake an admonishing finger at them or to try to frighten them. His stuff is rather like the ‘Waterfire’ celebration in Providence, which is meant to be endued with meaning by the people who visit it over time. Both artists attempt to fulfill an unsatisfied need for shared civic rituals in todays culture.

  • Richard Rohan

    For those that “don’t get” the gates:
    If nothing else, you’ve been compelled to fabricate (pun intended) clever quips about what they look like to you or how it “feels” in Central Park draped in saffron.
    You “get it” and you don’t even know it.
    The Gates are here to warp our perception of a familiar landscape. They have sufficiently blown everyone’s mind and given frozen New Yorkers a sunny reason to walk to the park in the dead of winter.
    As for the bridge and tunnel crowd being uncultured and nay-saying? You said it, I didn’t ;)
    As for the critics and B&T crowd: When you decide to stage your own massive display of public art in Central Park, that would be the most appropriate time to make all the changes you desire. May I suggest leaving out the pleats… I hate pleats!

  • i’m with richard rohan.
    well said.

  • Maybe it’s a Chinese New Year thing.

  • R C Dean

    Have I missed all those people who were hand-wringing over how the money spent on the inauguration should have been spent on the homeless, coming out against this multi-million dollar extravagance as well?

  • Cristo paid for the whole $20 mil himself. What I want to know is, where are the liberals demanding he spend that $20 million on the tsunami relief effort, much like they complained about Bush’s inagural price?

  • Scarlet A

    Get a right brain, Jeff.
    Work on it. Develop a high tolerance for ambiguity.
    It will change your view of the world, of the meaning of your life and make you sexier.

  • Rance

    As far as spending the money on the tsunami, a) the money was spent or committed long before the tsunami hit and b) if the project didn’t exist, the funds wouldn’t have existed, so they whole arguement makes no sense.

  • Dave N.

    From my own personal sampling of New Yorkers, including a cartoonist, a gallery owner, and a professor of photography, I’d say the native vs. B&T dichotomy does not apply here.
    Plenty of New Yorker’s don’t “get” the Gates.
    I do get them, however. I’m headed out to Central Park right now with my giant croquet ball and mallet.

  • tom

    Not being in NYC, my reaction is that it could be interesting, even awe-inspiring (a 23-mile long curtained corridor–I didn’t even know there could be 23 miles of paths in Central Park), but also I’m glad it’s temporary.
    I don’t see how this kind of temporary artistic installation is that much different from a free concert in park.

  • dick

    My little old Italian landlady creates this kind of art every day. She hangs her laundry out in the back yard and it is only up there temporarily. And she didn’t even have to buy all that material for just one purpose.
    All I can think is that this reminds me of the Emperor and his new clothes. Nothing to see there at all.

  • Hmm, judging from the photo, it kind of looks like the long lines of the red torii gates often seen lining the entrances to temples in Japan – maybe that’s where he got the idea…

  • Max

    Dick, you are blessed in being able to see art in the everyday, lucky you. Do you often write critiques on her hangings?

  • Maggie

    $20 million? I’m sure I could get a couple of Wyeth’s and a small Van Gogh for that! And they won’t look like laundry day at the end of the month.

  • Dave Rakowski

    Keith Olbermann had a similar “WTF” moment on his blog the other day as well:

  • jorge

    I have a feeling that most of the negative comments are from people who have not even been in the park. I was there on Sat and i sensed from talking to very many different people that it was a very happy time and very positive. The Gates are there just to be enjoyed and experienced, nothing else.

  • Glenn Kenny

    “I’ve seen no one else buck the oohing-and-ahhing crowd. Someone had to.”
    Yeah, that’s some bucking you’re doing there, Jarvis

  • Jim

    Is it aesthetic?

  • terrye

    You ain’t alone. I don’t get it either. Sometimes I think the rest of us are just a bunch of suckers.

  • phil

    I’ve seen Christmas light displays that are more interesting than this. Creativity can manifest itself in a variety of media, but we human beings admire skill and craftsmanship in addition to vision and imagination. The reality is that we will respect Rembrandt and his achievements more that Christo. And that dude that makes all the cool things out of twigs, ice, stones and leaves, is amazing. I don’t know his name, but there was a documentary about him recently. The fact is that I would rather watch some scateboarder do some great moves than watch Christo do anything.

  • I was going to leave a comment here, but I have to go now and create a temporary installation in the bathroom.

  • Vanyogan

    I congratulate the creators of this art. They created a style nobody will steal, let alone emmulate.
    Alas, it’s original art and surely it must be better than nought.

  • Anti-Meme

    Jeff, with all of your attempts to shove your cutesy little “memes” down our throats, you are revealing yourself to be a cultural Eeyore. Just enjoy some unexplained bliss for Christ(o)’s sake!

  • richard mcenroe

    $29 million? Said Nancy *stare* Pelosi: “We could have hung those curtains for a lot less money.”

  • I saw the Gates this morning when I was driving down Fifth Avenue on my way to work.
    My first reaction was “Cool, I’m glad I ended up on Fifth Avenue, I wasn’t expecting to see this.” But I didn’t get to appreciate the Gates, because I was late and there was a lot of traffic and I was very frustrated that I was creeping along.
    So I don’t know if I like the Gates or not. I think my son will like it if I take him. If he does like it, I’ll be happy, but I would probably not spend $20 million on it myself.