You know how it works on Letterman, Dave introduces the bit, a truly bizarre act is brought out, and Dave and Paul try to decide, “Is This Anything”? That’s my quandary over Gates by Christo and Jean-Claude. (By the way, pictures I took of Gates are interspersed throughout this article).
I visited the installation this past weekend. I only spent about 45 minutes in the park with Gates and I think this would have been easier if I could have walked through more of the park, but time was short, the weather was cold, and my wife and traveling companions were pressing me to get somewhere warm. Perhaps I would have come to some different conclusions if I could have wandered aimlessly for several hours among the fluttering saffron curtains (some 23 miles of them), or if the day had been warmer or, whatever. But, that’s the risks Christo and Jean-Claude take. When you control the time of the installation, you limit the possibilities for experiencing it to what exists when it is installed. So my experience was my experience, nothing more, nothing less.
And what was that experience? Well, tangled. There was a mom with a crying girl in a stroller who walked by. Said the mom, “She hates Christo.” Said I, “Everybody in New York is an art critic.” And you see, this is my problem: I don’t think its art. But I’m pretty sure its something. And I can’t tell you why I think its not art, but I can sure tell you why I’m sure its something.
I think its something because Christo and Jeanne-Claude had a vision (a large if not grand vision) that they realized in a way unique to them. They also did it, I’m happy to say, without any funds from the Government. This is no mean feat. Today when most people have a vision, they want me to pay for it whether I share their vision or not. Christo and Jeanne-Claude did not care if I supported their vision and they did not coerce anyone who did not share the vision to participate in funding it.
There was also something about the scale of Gates. I didn’t get to really experience it fully, I would have liked to have seen it from above. We drove around the park and saw hints of what it meant to have 23 miles of trails with the Gates on them, but did not get to experience the work as a totality. Maybe that was asking too much. Perhaps it was meant to be experienced fully only by Christo and Jeanne-Claude and only partially by everyone else. After all it was their vision.
I am glad they fulfilled it. Glad for them, and glad for me, I truly enjoyed seeing Gates even though I still don’t understand it. Is it anything? Yep, but it beats me what.