The gift and the community

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Photographs by Cate Fallon

I loved The Gates. Without reservations and with my whole heart. It’s a great gift to the city of New York and a great statement about the importance of community.

Harping about the “Home Depot” quality of the posts and the cloth as Inquirer reviewer Ed Sozanski did yesterday is a kind of grumping about details that misses the larger point.

The piece has theatre at its core. Suspend your disbelief a little and become part of it. Unlike Christo and Jeanne-Claude‘s more existential wrappings (Pont Neuf or the Reichstag) this piece is not about conveying angst, expiating guilt or the mystery of what lies behind the veil.

This project is a celebration of life, community, the park and the city by the pair, who have lived in New York since 1964. Check out their website for more on them.

This is Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s first piece since 1999 and while the piece has no direct relationship to the events of 9-11, the fact of walking on a circumscribed pathway in New York with thousands of others in what felt like a dignified ceremonial walk, reminded me of walking around the footprint of the WTC towers in late 2001, paying respects, along with everybody else. (here’s the artists in their motorcade, circling the park. You can’t really make them out in the shadows but Jeanne-Claude’s red hair was noticeable even through the tinted glass.)

Like Libby said, this is a feel-good piece. People smiled and talked with each other. The dogs and dog walkers were out in numbers, including this 7-year old Weimeraner, “Fog” whose owner, Gail Gondek, a pattern designer for Chado Co. in the garment district, had decked him out with a hand-made mini-gate in solidarity.

By pre-arrangement, we were supposed to meet our blogger friend and Artblog and ionarts contributor, Mark Barry, at the boat house near 72nd St. While sipping our hopelessly non-Starbucks coffee from the concession stand we swapped stories of our experience of the piece. Mark, who had been in the park several hours longer than us had seen Jeanne-Claude and Christo leap out of their car at one point. He had some great pictures. We had our little 2″ square pieces of the Gates cloth to show him, souvenirs we got from the project’s volunteers who were handing them out.

Mark said he took a ton of pictures but that he thought he’d taken the same shot again and again. When I got home and looked at my photos, darned if I hadn’t done the same. Cate’s photographs, however, give you the wonderful poetry of the piece — the trees against the poles, the march of the fabric around a ridge, the shadow of a branch through the cloth.

The day was by turns cloudy and sunny. So we saw The Gates under both conditions. And in our stroll from 59th St. to the boathouse at 72nd St. we got a pretty good taste of the project’s sweep.

Because the posts are footed on the sidewalks instead of in the grass along side, the pathways are narrowed by three or four feet. When there’s a lot of people on a narrow path, you feel the density. Cate, who lives in New York, compared the flow of the piece and its people moving aspects to the subway. Call it the Orange Line.

I’d say that The Gates is best experienced when a great crowd is out walking (weekends). That’s when you feel the energy of the city — its variety of people, old, young, rich, poor, all races and ethnicities. The piece is a leveler and for that reason alone it’s an exercise in democracy to walk its pathways.

Someone said orange is the new pink. Consider this the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Valentine. Here’s the official NY City website with more pictures and information. The piece is up through Feb. 27.

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