I made my farewell visit to The Gates today, taking my run around the entire parameter of Central Park. They have been up for sixteen days, and I've visited them on almost every one of them. Sometimes, like today, on the run but often slowly wending my way through the gated paths, looking at them from every perspective: under and above, close up and from afar. Sixteen days and they are gone. It's much like experiencing the full life of a friend or a loved one compressed into a nanosecond of time. I watched the infant building process in the proceeding weeks, experienced the life to its fullest and will surely observe the burial in the days to come.
Jeanne-Claude, Christo's life and work partner and his voice, was asked about the meaning of this monumental 23 mile exhibition. "It has no meaning," she said, "it is just art." And so it is. To be sure, artists like writers, composers and other communicators often have some meaning in mind as they create their work. In the end, however, much of the heavy lifting of meaning is left to us – the audience who experiences it. And experience is first thing that comes to mind with The Gates. During these sixteen days thousands of people, many New Yorkers and countless visitors experienced The Gates and with it Central Park (our great treasure) and the city itself.
It's cool, at least for some, to be a critic of The Gates, to see it as a big "so what." I don't agree, but art is in eye of the beholder and everyone will appreciate it differently. Contemporary art, especially of the momentary or performance kind, has been dismissed throughout the generations. I think the best response to that was given by a youngster who was asked by a smart aleck reporter, "don't you think this is something I could have done?" "Yes," she said, "but you didn't!" And isn't that the point? It took the perseverance of two obsessed artists to bring The Gates into our lives and to boot it was their gift to the city, its inhabitants and visitors. Their gift to us!
The gift is something in and of itself. It's wonderful, generous of course, but it also points to the way in which our country treats the artistic. We are positively miserly in our support of the arts in any form, and begrudge every dime spent. Considering how much is expended on building useless weapon systems and how many dollars fall through the cracks or go down the drain in the process through mismanagement or Congressional pork, we should be ashamed of ourselves. I'm glad and grateful that Jeanne-Claude and Christo didn't dip into the public coffers and, at the same time, equally saddened by it.
So what was I thinking as I took my final run through? I was thinking about bright color in the bleak winter – though it was a gloriously sunny final day. I was observing all of those people and thinking how much better it is to have them look at art in our park than to come and ghoulishly gawk at the scarred hole at ground zero – whoever came up with that ridiculous name as if it were the Logos of our lives. I was thinking about the local businesses who were beneficiaries of the gift and how, unlike the Republican Convention that also brought them customers, we didn't have to be in lockdown. People were welcomed in, not excluded. The police presence was real but in a way that made them part of, not separate from, the celebration of good will. I was thinking of how technology had changed us even here with cameras, including my own, clicking away with abandon but largely bypassing the famous "Kodak (film) moment". No bonanza for the fast photo counters in this event, just a lot of download and digital memory.
Most of all, with the backdrop of a depressing world and a domestic political abyss, I was feeling good, feeling saffron and as Martha who is to depart from her jail cell in the coming days would say, "that's a good thing." Bravo and thank you Jean-Claude and Christo!