Gates: Considered

Sun 3/6/2005

The gates are gone. So here goes...

And I apologize if some of my rambling isn't accurate-- I haven't double checked all my facts or anything. But from what I understand, the history of this project is thus: Christo and Jeanne-Claude pitched this idea to New York City in 1979 and have been trying to set it up ever since. And originally they wanted to do it in the FALL. (Hence the "saffron" and/or BRIGHT ORANGE color scheme). After years and years of hassle, the New York City parks service FINALLY agreed to let them do it, but only for two weeks and in the DEAD OF WINTER.

Now personally, I think this worked to their advantage. Central park in the fall is seriously intense with all of the oranges and reds and yellows anyway. I feel like the gates would have just blended in and the effect would have been totally diffused. In the winter though, with all the trees dead and snow on the ground and dead grass, the gates just EXPLODED from the scenery. Imagine greys and blacks and whites and then HUGE ORANGE STRUCTURES ALONG ALL THE PATHS. It was really cool.

The structures themselves were pretty interesting. I must mention though, I think "GATE" is the wrong word for these structures. A gate to me is an opening in a FENCE or some other structure separating two different things. I don't think the lines created by the THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of gates were supposed to evoke some sort of fence. I think they were more like PORTALS. But I guess that is nit-picking.

Anyways, they were FIFTEEN feet tall and the cloth AND the structure were all this "saffron" color. The base, on either side, was a 1" x 3'-6" box that somehow attached to the upright legs. I was a little worried about the stability of the gates. If you've ever built an open frame that stands alone (say, for a rehearsal stage door) you know how flimsy a rectangular structure can be. The uprights were about 4" square and the only triangulation in the whole unit were 45 degree miters on the top corners. There were hex-head bolts (3/8"?) attaching the uprights to the cross bar and to the base units as well. And there WAS some sort of flexibility in those attachments so that if a gate was set up on an incline (as many of them were) the upright could be adjusted to plum so that they would not be tilted, which might have caused tipping over (it is after all, like a giant SAIL). If they HAD fallen over it seems like that could be REALLY bad (think gigantic orange 15' tall domino set).

Really though, the thing that made the structures so amazing was the QUALITY of them. I feel like 99 out of 100 people approaching this project would say, "Okay, so...we'll make a few thousand of these gates and slap 'em up there and we're done, right?" But I mean, EACH GATE was really beautiful. The cloth was extremely thick and had this beautiful texture to it and it was sown really nicely. And the gates were ALL DIFFERENT SIZES. That was really the thing that impressed me.

On a small walkway the 15' tall gates were 4' wide. On the huge track at the North end of the park, the 15' tall gates were 15' wide. And on a path that opened up into an intersection the 15' gates increased their width from 7' to 12' incrementally. I mean, there were a seemingly infinite number of different widths of gates. Which was just really incredible. It turns a seemingly simple task ("Let's throw up a bunch of similar gates") into an incredibly complicated task ("Okay, this SPECIFIC gate goes HERE").

From a visual standpoint, the effect was pretty amazing. It was, obviously, better on windy days when the cloth was swooshing around, but even on a still afternoon the effect was incredible. To see these lines and patterns of orange streaking across the grey park. All the familiar paths seemed so new and interesting and paths I hadn't been on before seemed that much more magical. My FAVORITE part of the park (corner of 109 and CPW) was definitely the best gated area as well. It has three paths converging, one with STAIRS and then an overpass, all of which were gated. I stood there and was three-dimensionally surrounded by the gates, which was really something.

From a psychological standpoint, there was something really strange about walking through the gates (or PORTALS, *cough* *cough*). Whether or not you realize it, there is something that happens when you walk through a portal. ANY portal. When you walk out of a building, or into a new room there is something subcontious that goes on. You are aware of going from one space to another space. And walking through a SERIES of portals is an oddly powerful experience. To constantly feel that you are passing into somewhere new. DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED on thinking of this from my Comics-addled mind (each space between the gates, a new moment in time, etc. etc.)

But really, all of that aside, I think the thing I enjoyed the most about the gates was that it got people to appreciate Central Park. Not that people DON'T. But it just... I don't know... The first time I saw the gates was on a Tuesday afternoon when I walked home from work: 57th street all the way back up to 107th street (The entire length of the park). The sun was setting and there were just THRONGS of people walking around, taking pictures, walking around. And when I got up to about the mid-70s, close to the West side of the park, I saw this old couple holding hands and walking slowly, talking together. They were dressed VERY fashionably and seemed to be very well-to-do. And it's hard to describe, but they just had this look on their faces. They were looking around them, as if they hadn't been inside Central Park in 20 years. As though they had lived on Central Park West their whole lives, but never dreamt of crossing the street (in FEBRUARY no less!) to take a nice evening stroll through the park.

I don't know. It was really cool and I feel really lucky that I got to experience it in so many different ways. I heard a lot of negative things about the gates (a waste of money, "I don't get it", etc. etc.) and I heard a lot of great things as well. And I personally know people who traveled from Ohio, Seattle and San Fransico just to see them (!!?!) I think it was good. I don't know how else to put it.

It occurred to me the other day though, I never took any pictures! Aggh! Oh well. There will be plenty of pictures. And I can say that I was there...

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