By Frederick Winship
United Press International

Christo's 'Gates' transforms Central Park

New York, NY, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The artist Christo's envelopment of Central Park's walkways for 16 days in fluttering saffron-color fabric banners was ready for its official Saturday opening by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the culmination of a project titled "The Gates" that was 26 years in gestation.

The Bulgarian-born New York artist whose full name is Christo Javacheff and his Tunisian French wife-collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, are known around the world for "wrapping" important buildings and landscapes in fabrics. They began promoting a Central Park project in 1979 but were stymied by park preservationists until Bloomberg gave them his blessing last year.

As a result, there are 7,500 free-standing, 16-foot orange vinyl gates that support fabric banners placed at 12-foot intervals along 23 miles of the park's pedestrian walks from 59th Street to 110th Street. The city already was familiar with the project from an exhibition of Gates-related material mounted by the Metropolitan Museum last summer.

"Now, at long last, this monumental installation has seen fruition," said the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello, at a pre-opening viewing. "It constitutes an unforgettable tribute to the grandeur of Central Park and is a reaffirmation of the continuity of culture and the centrality of art to the life of our city."

The artistic team paid the $22 million cost of the installation themselves, as they have paid for all their projects, from sales of preparatory drawings, scale models, maps, lithographs, samples of gate posts and banners, and other souvenirs including commemorative wrist watches, tote bags, T-shirts and scarves. The Metropolitan Museum gift shop is selling most of the items including signed copies of a book, "Christo & Jeanne-Claude: On the Way to the Gates."

As the installation opened, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, both 69, said they had recouped nearly all of the cost and were sure of earning the rest without accepting any sponsorships or donations, as is their custom. Some of the proceeds are being donated to the Central Park Conservancy and Nurture New York's Nature Inc., which also is getting profits from the sale of a $295 Hermes silk commemorative scarf.

"The question we are asked most is, 'What's it for?'" Jeanne-Claude told UPI. "The answer is, 'It's for nothing. It's only a work of art. Nothing more.'"

The profit to the city, predicted by Bloomberg to reach $75 million to $80 million, will result from the project's attraction of 3 million to 4 million visitors during the slow winter tourist season. Some 200,000 viewers were expected on the opening day, and hotels lining Central Park reported near-capacity reservations totaling 50,000 rooms for the rest of the month.

The city's Visitors Bureau reported groups of Christo fans have come to the city from Germany, France, Japan and several other countries that have had "wrapping" projects in the past. Hotels near the park were offering package deals and binoculars in every park-view room during the installation. The city promised tight security for anyone visiting the installation on foot by patrolmen with special language facilities.

The Metropolitan Museum is opening its roof garden, unprecedented in winter, for the best bird's-eye viewing of the rivulets of saffron running through the park's February-bare trees. Many restaurants are serving specially devised dishes with names that included "Christo" and "saffron" such as the saffron cream sauce for mussels dreamed up by La Prima Donna Restaurant.

Among those attending the opening are 600 minimum-wage volunteers from all over the United States, including Ann W. Richards, the former governor of Texas. They fitted the vinyl gates into 1,500 steel stanchions that weigh 700 pounds each but do not disturb an inch of Central Park soil and hung the banners well above the height of the tallest viewer.

Some volunteers reported they are veterans of such other Christo projects as wrapping the German Reichstag building, Paris' Pont Neuf, Key Biscayne in Florida, and building the "Running Fence" across California's Sonoma and Marin counties.

"I did my first Christo installation as a teenager, wrapping some streets in Kansas City, and now I am in my 40s," said Iris Sandkühler, an artist volunteer from San Francisco. "This is my seventh project and I still love it."

Also visiting the installation will be tens of thousands of New York-area public school children. The city's Department of Education has created an instructional guide to the site that has been distributed throughout the school system.

The installation process was filmed by noted documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles and his collaborator, Antonio Ferrera, for television release by HBO this fall. Maysles has documented every one of Christo's projects since 1974. These films are part of a special film screening at the Museum of Modern Art that began Wednesday titled "Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects Recorded 1969-1998."

"The new film will be a tribute to the courage and audacity of two wonderful people, the Christos," Maysles said in an interview. "It takes mature persons to devote every moment of their lives and every penny of their savings in such an open way."

Washington Times
February 11, 2005

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