A couple of weeks ago, I entered Central Park to take a run and noticed a series of low black stone wedges with orange handle-like markers on the path before me. What's going here, I asked myself. As I proceeded around the six mile winding road from 69th street up over the top of park at 110th down the other side to 59th and back around to my entry point, it was clear that there was more to all of this than just a few blocks of black stone at 69th. They were everywhere. What I saw emerging, and what will come to full fruition this weekend, is the fulfillment of the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude's long planned "Gates" public art experience. As the days have passed and the shape of this wonder emerges on all of the park's 23 miles of paths, it's clear that New York which has seen it all is about to see something really new. Rachel Bernstein, my talented artist daughter-in-law who was in town for a few days and is kicking herself that she'll miss Gates in full bloom, joined me in checking out the building progress yesterday before flying home to Chapel Hill. If anyone doesn't understand what art is, she said, they should come here and experience it. Indeed they should.
On today's visit, where I took a lot of photos, I thought about why this evolving temporary art was so engaging, so exciting. It was a grey day, quite a contrast from the soaring bright orange structures that were beginning to dominate the space. What a metaphor I thought. I wouldn't say that it spoke the cliché "light at the end of the tunnel", but it certainly evoked a counterpoint to the darkness of our time. I was also thinking that one of the things missing among the current crowd in Washington (both parties) and other places of
leadership in this country and around the world is humor. I thought of Franklin Roosevelt's broad smiling face with that cigarette holder sticking straight into the air – the anti-fear man of high spirits (he also liked his afternoon cocktail) in the depths of national depression. I thought of Jack Kennedy's dry humor, the unending quips that punctuated every press conference drawing you in and giving you a sense that politics was indeed a noble and uplifting thing. We're all so dour today, we take ourselves so seriously, carry the burden so visibly on our shoulders.
What's going on in Central Park is striking, but it also makes you smile. It's the kind of thing that doesn't take itself so seriously. It's art at its creative core, not its permanent preciousness. It reminds us that we are alive and bright (orange), that dark as it may be, life is full of light or at least can be. The Christo project was dismissed by many as too daunting, too much for this City that's experienced it all. No one would take on this monumental task; translate this dream into a reality. But here it is, the impossible as the possible. It won't be around for more than a fortnight which in itself is some kind of metaphor for the fragility of brightness in our time. It won't be around to see in the park, but I won't let it slip from my memory. So there, dark and dismal world!