The fate of `The Gates': dismantling starts today

Central Park art project must be gone by March 15


NEW YORK - Contrary to some reports, Jeanne-Claude's hair is a few shades darker than the Sunkist orange - er, saffron - of the million square feet of fabric hanging from The Gates in Central Park. It's more the color of carrot cake.

Still, she is unmistakable in a crowd. On a stroll yesterday morning through the art project that she and her husband, Christo, designed, she could barely walk a few feet without attracting a horde of jacket-swaddled tourists.

"Why are you taking pictures of me?" Jeanne-Claude barked. "Turn around; look at the gates! I see only coats! I want to see gates!"

Art is long, and life is short, and city contracts are even shorter. In keeping with Jeanne-Claude and Christo's agreement with the city, the dismantling of the 7,500 gates was to start first thing today, and every last scrap has to be gone by March 15. That is fine with Jeanne-Claude. February was the only month the project would work anyway, when the trees are leafless and row upon row of color can be seen in every direction, she said.

The dismantling will be easier than the installation because there will not be any need to be careful. The 5,290 tons of steel will be melted down and recycled and the fabric will be shredded and turned into carpet padding. Then all that will be left of The Gates will be the memories, and the T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, watches and baseball caps.

There will also be the coffee table book, as there is for most of their projects. Christo spent yesterday morning with Wolfgang Volz, the photographer, gathering pictures for the book.

Jeanne-Claude laughed, imitating her husband's orders to Volz: "`I want that tree and that tree, but not that one,'" she said.

It was a bright sunny morning, but cold, and the park was crowded. Everywhere she walked, Jeanne-Claude was followed by a constant stream of thank-yous and butchered mercis. She smiled back, but would not sign autographs and stopped for photographs only grudgingly. In a whisper, she explained that the gratitude was misplaced. The whole project, all $21 million of it, was of, by and for themselves, Jeanne-Claude and Christo. If the public happened to like it, well, that was a bonus. Any artist would tell you the same, she said.

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