Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heavenly Gates

Today I watched The Gates, a documentary about the evolution and execution of the famed installation by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York's Central Park, in 2005. I'd seen prints, photographs and working drawings of the saffron-coloured fabric hung from several thousand rectangular steel archways (the 'gates') – the drawings alone were beautiful – but they didn't prepare me for the magnificence of the final work I saw in this film.
I wish I could have seen it in person. The installation drew everything else in the park and the surrounding city into the artwork. The symmetry of the gates echoed the shapes of the surrounding buildings, and the fabric looked – to me, at least – like stage curtains in a theatre that had no beginning, no end, and no barrier between the audience and those involved. Everyone walking through the gates became an integral part of the installation.
The season chosen for installation was perfect. The afternoon sun made the orange fabric glow in the dull grey winter twilight. In the clear of the day, large spashes of orange were reflected in the lake, and even small puddles of water. When fresh snow covered the park it became a primed white canvas, accentuating the orange, blues, and greys of the work. The shapes and pattern of the gates made me look at everything surrounding them with fresh eyes. Bare trees looked like sculptures, the dark paths made by ducks as they swam through a soft layer of pale ice became abstract line drawings. The fabric of the gates made the wind visible as it moved through the park.
I've always admired Christo and Jeanne-Claude and their philosophy of not accepting corporate sponsorship or donations. They finance their enormous installations solely by the sale of plans, working drawings and photographs and public talks. It is an ideal way not to compromise. Their approach and their sheer determination and clarity of vision inspired me even more to reinforce and cherish my own independence from the traditional 'system'.

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