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Nicholas Hirshon, JOU 1020 Due: February 22, 2005

Over the years, New Yorkers hays 
famous landmarks for granted.

Made for New Yorkers, “The Gates” Bring Out the Best of Central Park

Taken as individual pieces of art, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” are 
remarkable only if one considers the time and money the artists spent on them. Still, 
although they remain too abstract to be seen as anything more than 7,532 identical panels 
of saffron fabric, “The Gates” possess a novelty and obscurity that have brought usually 
ungrateful New Yorkers to beautiful Central Park, and for that they should be praised.

When visitors brave the chilly February weather to walk through “The Gates,” 
they may wonder why the artists did not wait a few extra months to display their latest 
work. But by unveiling them in February, Christo and Jeanne-Claude deserve recognition 
for catering specifically to resident New Yorkers, not to the landmark-hunting tourists 
who swarm the city during the summer and at Christmas time. Many “Gates” visitors 
have been to Central Park before and remember what it looked like without square poles 
sprouting from the pathways. As a result, they can experience ‘The Gates” in a way that 
most non-New Yorkers cannot.

eiimed a reputation for taking theip«4ty> s cjOW^^ 
Tii5^3^^es” were erected exactly^r thaf^ ^

reason) nros« who stray from then^^a^si^n'^d themselves deciphwmig^e ^
isreglyphics on Cleopatra’s Needle 6x seaJramg fo^e famous red-tailed hawks Pale^tU^C 
Male and Lola in nearby trees, but th^shouldnojjfem guilty for doing so. By their very 
nature, “The Gates” allow for free movefncntrffis^ing viewers to wander away for a few 

minutes before eventually coming back to continue their walk. At certain points along the 
trail, spectators are tempted to inspect the park’s lesser known features, like the imposing 
equestrian statue of former Polish King Wladyslaw Jagiello that overlooks the now 
frozen turtle pond. Even when visitors work up an appetite and stop to buy hot dogs or 
soft pretzels from one of the park’s many vendors, they are still unknowingly absorbing 
the city’s culture, eating a delicacy that is simply not the same anywhere else.

As simple structures, “The Gates” do not command any extra attention. Only the 
most pretentious and obsessive visitors will examine them closely, as if some deeper 
message lies in their cold metal or rough fabric. Christo and Jeanne-Claude may have 
intended for basic symbolism: the bright saffron seems to annoimce the coming of spring, 
and collectively the gates themselves could be interpreted as portals to a heightened level 
of perception. But, when the artists are asked for specific answers (Why saffron? Why 
gates?), they have remained relatively ambiguous, instead preferring to let the public 
interpret the installation for themselves. It is a wise decision on their part since the best 
art offers viewers the opportunity to come to their own individual conclusions based on 
emotional reactions.

At “The Gates,” couples will immediately understand this concept. Although few , 
find saffron or metal inherently romantic, couples walking through “The Gates” are often 
seen holding hands or sharing kisses, as if the beauty around them is too overwhelming y' 
ignore. These enigmatic reactions can be at least partially attributed to the temporariness 
tliat-ftccbmpanie's the^, which will be permanently dismantled on February 27. Like 
state fairs or carnivals, “The Gates” embrace a romanticism bom when a couple jointly



experiences a fleeting event they know only a limited number of people will ever come

across. . „ ,,Unfortunately, as must be expected at any New York City attraction, “The Gates
are accompanied by their fair share of commercialism. Merchants outside the park s 
major entrances sell various T-shirts and drawings while the neighboring Metropolitan 
Museum of Art touts “Gates”-themed scarves, wristwatches and posters. But the 
atmosphere is truly ruined by the uniformed monitors who hand out saffron swatches 
specially woven for the installation, and the crowds who surround them hoping to receive 
a free souvenir. Although it is understandable that visitors would want to remember The 
Gates,” the swatches represent only a fraction of their true purpose. Photographs or 
posters wi&^&e park in the background would make better mementos since they put The 
Gates” int^^rspective with their surroundings.

Still, commercialism also provides some unintended advantages, as evidenced at 
the Metropolitan’s Roof Garden. Billed as one of the best spots to get a bird’s-eye view 
of “The Gates,” the Roof Garden will likely disappoint many viewers, but only 
momentarily. For although “The Gates” remain generally unimpressive and partially 
hidden behind trees, the Roof Garden offers a terrific view of the Manhattan skyline, 
another sight that, consistent with the artists’ theme. New Yorkers often take for granted.

When a strong gust of wind blows the fabric of a given panel onto the horizontal 
pole above it, workers hurriedly use long metal rods with tennis balls on one end to push 
the fabric back into its original position. If they could just wait a few minutes, they would 
find that “The Gates” retain their function even if the fabric gets tangled. Their beauty 
lies not in their appearance but in their ability to make New Yorkers see just how^much 

they have been missing.



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