In 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized their vision when New York City allowed The Gates – Project for Central Park to occur. The Gates hung for sixteen days and over four million people experienced the glow of saffron in the winter skies.
Their tenacity in developing and nurturing this vision for over twenty years before the city agreed to do it inspired me. I had to go. It started as a thousand gates and ended up with seven thousand, five hundred gates through twenty-three miles of pathways. The Gates, which varied from six to eighteen feet wide, stood sixteen feet high, and the fabric panels hung seven feet from the ground. Hundreds of paid workers did the final installation in five days, and it hung for only sixteen days, February 12 – 28, 2005. The fabric was manufactured in Germany, the vinyl gates made in New York, the steel came from Pennsylvania and everything was stored and partially assembled in Queens. The project was entirely recycled and left no environmental impact – no holes in the ground, no branches cut.
Drawing their inspiration from the architects who designed Central Park, Christo and Jeanne-Claude sought to create a saffron ceiling over the walkways, casting warm shadows for winter walkers. Seen from above, the installation would “seem like a golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees and highlighting the shape of the footpaths.” As in all their work, Christo and Jeanne-Claude seek to create joy and beauty for everyone who participates. In two weeks over four million people walked through the gates of Central Park – many more than the original estimate of five hundred thousand – despite the bitter cold. There was a buzz of energy throughout the park. Busloads of children ran down the paths, squealing and jumping to touch the fabric. It seemed like a coming out and healing for the people of New York after 9/11. Central Park unifies many parts of the city, from Columbus Circle on the lower west side to the Harlem Projects on the upper east side to Madison Avenue. No matter where you went there were saffron gates reminding you of our connectedness.
It’s exciting to know that art can have such an impact on our world and involve so many people. Usually it’s sports or violence that get so much attention. For me, this was the Olympics of installation art.