New York City Diary

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More Gates

The Gates is still on my mind, and still in my park. If you live in or near New York City, I highly recommend you go see it. You can also view an excellent slideshow with narration here.

Yesterday I wanted to post a blog entry immediately after returning from a walk through the park to see The Gates. My impressions were confined to the work itself, not the artists, and not what the media and other people have said.

That seems simple, but it's not, because, as I mentioned yesterday, everybody has an opinion about The Gates, whether or not they have actually seen the project up close. And people want very much to share their opinions, because their opinions are the right opinions, more like facts, really.

I can't really blame them, because it's just human nature. You don't need to actually see the movies to have an opinion on who really deserves to win an Oscar, right? But I think judging the work independently of everything that's attached to the work is important, and will often yield a different opinion.

I wanted my impressions of The Gates to stand alone yesterday. Today I will write a few thoughts about the artists and the aura that surrounds them. I do know a little bit about it because I fact checked an item in Esquire about it, so I did a bit of research. Here's what I think:

Is The Gates an ego-driven project for Christo and Jeanne-Claude?

Not entirely, but ego plays a big role.

Is The Gates the talk of the town because of its sheer scale, i.e. were Christo and Jeanne-Claude pretty much guaranteed a big splash no matter what?

66% Yes.

Has the brainy media fallen at Christo and Jeanne-Claude's feet?

Yes. My number one complaint about The Gates is this: Christo and Jeanne-Claude won't stop talking about how they paid for it themselves. Over and over again, in every single media outlet you can imagine, right in the top of the story, it will tell you that the artists financed the project themselves. That taxpayers did not finance this art project. That it's technically not a "public art" project at all because that might imply that the public paid for it. Which they didn't. Christo and Jeanne-Claude did.

Note to Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Shut up about how you paid for The Gates.

New York is not going to feel indebted to you. You should feel indebted to New York for letting you use their park for your project. Quit browbeating the media to mention that you paid for everything high up in every story. It's clear you've gotten through to them, but I smell a rat every time I read it. Even at the opening ceremony, it wasn't New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg harping about who paid for what, that came from the artists. And every time that point is pounded into my head, I like The Gates a little bit less.

As their website will tell you, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed The Gates by selling "studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models" of The Gates, as well as older works. These "studies, preparatory drawings" etc. are valuable precisely because New York City granted them permission to use the park as a canvas. Those drawings wouldn't be worth much if the actual project didn't happen, so without financing it, New York made its financing possible. It's not like Jeanne-Claude saved up money from her paper route to make a gift to the people of New York.

Yes, the financing of the project is an important detail, and most news stories ought to include it, right around the fourth paragraph. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude's excessive touting of their "benevolence" reeks of self promotion.

My point is, I love The Gates. I love the work itself. Walk through the park and love it (or hate it) yourself. Experience it on your own. Forget about the artists, and the media, and who paid for what. Because that's a different thing entirely.


Blogger Jenn said...

I think former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern put it well (from

Even if you think the gates are ugly, or a machine-made derogation of real art, or that the display is inappropriate in a natural area, or that Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (his wife, business manager, and muse) are shameless self-promoters, there is still much to appreciate in the colorful spectacle, including the fact that it was built, in the plain view of millions of people. It is no tragedy to do such a thing once, to amuse, enlighten, and provoke people, as long as no harm is done to the park. Perhaps the sight of the gates will teach us to be watchful about monkeying with the park’s natural landscape in order to suit the caprice of artists with deep pockets.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Rob Horning said...

You can't really see the Gates "for yourself" because it's already been mediated to everyone as a big pseudoevent. This is why we can all have opinions about it without being anywhere near Central Park, and why when we arrive at Central Park, we are only partially seeing what's simply there and are more preoccupied experiencing ourselves becoming a part of art history. In that way their ego trip becomes ours, I suppose.
Mayor Bloomberg was an ardent supporter of the installation because as he frankly admitted, it owuld bring lots of tourist money to the city. In this, The Gates seems a kind of consolation prize for not being able to have that mother of all pseudoevents, the Super Bowl, here.

4:12 PM  

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