Overlooking Bethesda fountain, marveling at the crowds drawn to this amazing display of billowing saffron fabric, I wonder, when was the last time millions of New Yorkers came together to simply saunter, stroll, take a walk in the park and contemplate the path of a breeze by following it through hanging fabric. People are discussing color, and the effect of light on color. They’re looking at The Gates with big smiles, and pointing out subtleties of design. They’re thinking about why the tops of The Gates are all level even though the ground is not. And, of course, they are taking many, many pictures. This is one to remember! We were there! “Let me take one of ALL of you”- strangers volunteer.
The allure of the quiet, mysterious, noncommercial aspect of the piece; the abandoning of the intellectual “what is it” factor, and giving into the experience, make this event completely unique. And the thrill at being able to actually own a physical piece of it by simply asking a worker for a swatch of fabric is all utterly amazing. We have nothing to compare this to. It crosses all lines. It is a true Happening. And it feels a little like everyone is stoned.
The avoidance of commercialism at every turn is simply incomprehensible in our world. Even that bastion of the art world, the dealer is locked out! The artists are their OWN dealers! How totally avant garde! You can buy a tee shirt, or any number of other souvenirs, but even here, your mind is blown because you are making a contribution to Central Park, not the creators of The Gates who make no money from these mementos.
How thrilling to hear millions of people discussing art rather than sports; to see hundreds of thousands of families travel miles to take a walk through The Gates in mid February and allow themselves to contemplate and be affected by it. We’re talkin’ family values, here. Art is restorative, redemptive, healing. The last time we were compelled to come together and explore a deeper part of ourselves was of course because of the tragedy of September 11th. Our behavior changed. The magnitude, the scale, the wonder of the tragedy left us dwarfed, left us to reinvent our behavior so it would fit our shared grief and love for this city and each other. Remember the quiet, the wondering when you would hear the first car horn in traffic, the holding a door for the person behind you?
The coming together for The Gates, is the opposite side of that coin, another monumental behavior changer. I am so grateful to Christo and Jeanne-Claude for their insistence on fun, pointlessness, beauty; the promotion of the promenade, the stroll, the saunter. They have given us an opportunity to express our humanity again, in such a positive way. The spell of it, the transformative effect of it has touched the hundreds of thousands who have come to see what this is all about. It works in every language.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects by nature bring people together. But this one, in their home city, the art capital of the world, has given we art teachers in particular, a gift, a credibility in the world at large, that is much appreciated. People walk through the park wearing clothing emblazoned with their team’s logos. These sports fans have finally come to see my team play! Wow! What a great feeling. I love it. And in this day when Art is the first subject to be thrown out of the classroom, it is wonderful to see art standing tall in all it’s power and glory reminding us of it’s very important place in our contemporary lives, and it’s enormous power to transform, redeem, communicate, inspire.