The Gates: Musings from a Tuesday

February 20, 2005|By Christopher T. Assaf | Sun Staff

Overheard:

"Impressive."

"Alive."

"Breathtaking."

"Amazing."

"Twenty-five years for this? At least we're not paying for it."

About a block from Central Park South, the first evidence of a 25-year quest becomes visible. "The Gates" start to rise above the traffic along the sidewalk that parallels East 59th at the southern end of the park. They dwarf the cars and pedestrians and mark a path into the barren trees where they can be glimpsed past the naked branches, the fabric moving gently as if tickled by the invisible fingers of the wind.

Cameras, cameras and more cameras. They are everywhere. I have never seen so many cameras of such different shapes and sizes, old and new. Film and digital. Expensive and cheap. It seems as if even the locals, the hardcore New Yorkers who come through Central Park daily, are carrying cameras. Mothers with their strollers stop for a snapshot with the child in frame. A jogger out for a morning workout, who obliviously ran past a few moments ago, is discovered, with a point-and-shoot aimed, vertically framed by one of the cyclopean passageways. There are more cameras than I saw during the inauguration in January. I realize how much people love to take photographs.

Most people comment on the business of the park, with more people being there than ever seen during a February. As the morning turns to midday, more and more start to journey through the maze of paths that comprise Central Park. In parts of the park the saffron-colored gates, made of metal, plastic and nylon fabric, are widely dispersed and seem to have little connection to one another. In other sections they are tightly packed, seeming to be closer to one another then the stated 12-foot separation guide. They bring a certain color and life to the park, not only in themselves but in the viewers who walk slowly and at a steady pace, looking all about and breathing it in and out.

It is so unlike the streets and sidewalks outside of Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. There pedestrians seem focused somewhere within and intent on a specific purpose, hurrying to get where they need to go as quickly as possible without interference ? not even from the city itself. In the park everyone is focused on the outside, more aware of the environment and people that surround them. And willing to interact.

Of course there are exceptions, like the dogwalkers who have a job to do. It is difficult enough to walk a number of dogs varying in shape and size, but add a bunch of people who are gazing all about and it must make the daily obstacle course even more unpredictable then usual.

Two things stand out to me the most as I make my way around the park, walking the paths and climbing the rocks to explore the visual river created by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The first was when I walked into a more central and isolated section of the park called the Ramble. As I passed the Swedish Cottage and wandered through the trees, "The Gates" stopped and the surroundings became normal wooded terrain. As I continued to walk I could not see a single piece or section of the saffron art. Trees, dead leaves, mud and asphalt were all I could see and the park seemed to lose its life without the color.

It amazed me the amount of variety and energy "The Gates" brought to the winter landscape. Once I escaped the Ramble and came to the lake I could once again see the illuminated pieces. Some "Gates" stand still while others flap lazily in the breeze. All of them are nearly identical with little differential but a few varying dimensions, yet each is completely unique within the moment.

The second thing that strikes me is how respectful people are of "The Gates." People seem to give them a certain amount of "personal" space. Other than standing on the bases or touching the fabric, usually very briefly, all seem to be in admiration of what has been brought and given to them for the shortest time.

Christopher Assaf is a Sun staff photographer.

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