Boy Reporter at the Gates

I'm quite sure everyone is sick and tired of hearing about the Gates, so I promise that this will be my only and my last post about Christo's installation. I went to the Central Park last Saturday on a breezy winter day, and also the second to last day the installation was completely up.

The critical round-up about the Gates has been mixed. Timothy Comeau's Good Reads has done a good job rounding up critiques about the Gates including a very funny segment from the Daily Show. There's this Talk of the Town piece. And my old boss, Sally McKay's rousing commentary on the piece.

There's a strange tension in this work and indeed in many of Christo's work. The Gates is arguably a democratic piece. It was free (it didn't cost anything, but miraculously also free of ads), open to the public and in Central Park, a space that many New Yorkers use and frequent on a regular basis. But also strangely dictatorial, Sally commented on the massive police presence to protect the Gates. But the Gates is also Christo imposing his will and force of personality upon the environment. When he places giant umbrellas or a giant curtain out in the middle of nowhere, it's probably seen as artistic quaintness. But when you intervene in America's most famous park, you're going to piss a few people off.

I spoke to a few locals about the Gates and the conversation swung back and forth from, 'I loved it. I mean, all those people came and it looks great in the park' to 'It was ugly. They look like shower curtains, or an ad for Home Depot, give me back my park.'

It's conversations like this, which I heard all week that has me echoing Peter Schjeldahl's comment that the work rendered art critics helpless, "that “The Gates” is a populist affront to the authority of art critics, and [that he had to] accept being just another shuffling, jostling, helplessly chummy citizen." Here was a work in one of the most public of public spaces. Hundreds of thousands went to see the Gates, a work of relatively challenging contemporary art.

When was the last time that many people engaged with a work of contemporary art? It's heartening to see, but of course leads me to ask whether it takes a $21 million art project in one of the world's most famous parks to get people to actually look at, gasp in wonder or boo and hiss at a piece of art?

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