The Gates: A Case of Practical Magic

Physician's Money DigestApril15 2005
Volume 12
Issue 7



Well, I think it's just nonsense. What's thepoint?"This was my mother's initialresponse when she first heard about in Central Park, New York City,the latest "temporary work of art"by artists Christo andJeanne-Claude. Before she could continue with her rant,I suggested that we see it; it seemed a good enoughexcuse for a mother-daughter day out, so she agreed andwithheld her judgment for the time being.

I understand my mom's cynicism. As an administratorin the charity care office of a central New Jersey hospital,she has had her share of challenges in dealing withred tape and the problems of health care. Our conversationsare often filled with tales of frustrated doctors, nurses,administrators, and patients all struggling to findpractical solutions to impossible problems. Subsequently,my mother's opinions on what should be deemed "valuable"are often tied to practicality and purpose.

Thus, a flamboyant display of 7500 saffron-coloredgates with matching fabric panels hanging freely fromtheir tops would be hard-pressed to receive a stamp ofapproval from my pragmatic mom. But there is more tothis display than a random act of orange vandalism.

The Gates

The artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, spent 26years bringing this event to fruition. The money spent tocreate (in the millions) came entirely fromtheir pocketbooks—no sponsorship and no donations ofany kind were accepted. This helps keep their work pure,free from the influence of financial interests. They raisethe money by selling preparatory studies, early worksfrom the '50s and '60s, and original lithographs fromother subjects. For me, this gives the work an artisticnobility; they do not create to sell, they sell to create. Andthe result—the projects they construct are a gift given tous without obligation for us to give them anything inreturn. In our world this is such a rarity. When was thelast time you were given something from a stranger forfree without an advertisement or message attached to it?

So this is where my mom and I found ourselves on abright and brisk February day, surrounded by miles ofsaffron gates. Amid bare gray and brown trees, glowingfabric swayed above our heads and tickled our senses.We smiled and laughed and took pictures and helpedother people by taking their pictures and were overjoyed."I think this is wonderful,"mom said as we circledpast Central Park's carousel. It's amazing how muchmagic some steel frames and bright cloth can bring to atired and wintry city. And it's even more amazing whatthey can do for a tired and burnt-out soul.



The Gates

Although we regretted the short lifespan of , it gave us a sense of urgency to make the pilgrimage.The experience of was simple andfleeting; it won over my mom and left us with such apositive memory that for days afterwards we felt compelledto point out things that were bright orange andsmile. If this is what art is capable of, then everyoneneeds to be a part of it.

Project Overview

The Gates


Artists: Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Valley Curtain

Surrounded Islands

The Pont

Neuf Wrapped

The Umbrellas

Wrapped Reichstag

Several previous works: , Rifle,Colorado, 1970 to 1972; , BiscayneBay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980 to 1983; , Paris, 1975 to 1985; ,Japan-USA, 1984 to 1991; , Berlin,1971 to 1995

Location: 23 miles of walkway in Central Park,New York City, New York

Estimated cost: $21 million

Materials: 7500 steel gates, 16 feet tall, varying inwidth from 5 feet 6 inches to 18 feet and 60 miles ofsaffron-colored vinyl fabric panels

Years of development: 1979 to 2005

Lifespan: 18 days, February 12 to 28, 2005

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