Cheers greet `Gates' opening

Christo's N.Y. project lines Central Park

February 13, 2005|By Stevenson Swanson | Stevenson Swanson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - The drab winter landscape of Central Park came alive with undulating panels of orange fabric yesterday as teams of workers unfurled "The Gates" to the cheers of art lovers.

The largest public art project in New York history, The Gates is the work of Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, the artists who are on a first-name basis with fame because of previous eye-popping projects such as wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and creating a flowing fabric fence in northern California.

After more than a quarter-century of existing only in the minds of its creators, this latest project began its two-week run yesterday morning when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg opened the tube-like "cocoon" on the crossbeam of one of the 16-foot-high gates, allowing the pleated nylon curtain inside to unfurl.

Teams of workers paid by the artists spent several hours repeating that procedure for each of the 7,500 vinyl-and-aluminum arches, which range in width from 5 feet to 18 feet. Spaced about 12 feet apart, the freestanding gates cover about 23 miles of paved pedestrian walkways in all sections of the 843-acre park.

The teams, made up of Christo fans from across the country, drew sizable crowds of onlookers with cameras and video recorders. Judging from the enthusiastic turnout on a cold, windy day, the artists seem to have succeeded.

"We are creating works of art of joy and beauty," said Jeanne-Claude at a news conference Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Like all works of art created by all other artists, it is only a work of art. It has no purpose. It is not a symbol. It is not a message."

New Yorker Joan Wicks, 62, has been awaiting The Gates since the city gave its blessing in 2003.

"As soon as this got approved, I was doing back flips," said Wicks, a consultant for nonprofit groups and a fan of landscape art. "It's made New York more of a neighborhood because people are talking about it on the subways, in stores."

As in the past, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are financing the estimated $21 million cost of The Gates through sales of Christo's drawings of the project.

An 8-by-11-inch sheet runs $30,000, while near-life-size renderings that are 8 feet long carry a price of $600,000.

Mayor Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of the Bloomberg news service, said at Friday's news conference that he owns two large drawings.

Christo, 69, first envisioned The Gates in 1979 as a much smaller project of only 1,000 gates. The rectangular gates reflect New York's orderly street grid, he said, and the flowing pieces of fabric, which hang about 7 feet off the ground, are meant to emphasize the serpentine nature of the park's walkways.

And, because New Yorkers get around their city on foot, he wanted to create a project that people could walk through.

Beyond that, he was as loath as his wife to offer any explanations for the work.

"This project is not about talking," he said. "You need to spend time, walking, cold air, sunny day, rainy day, even snow. It is not necessary to talk. You have to spend time, experience the project."

Thousands of tourists are expected to flock to New York to see The Gates, a welcome boon at one of the slowest times of year. City officials estimate that the Central Park installation will give the city an $80 million boost.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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