a delicious challenge to grow an idea for 27 years, nurturing it though
all its nuances. In a 29 mile saffron slash across Central Park, Christo
departs from canvas and paint. People touched by Christo's project may
find their gaze elevated and elongated. Think big, think long, think
- New York Times
January 4, 2005
By CAROL VOGEL
Under the watchful gaze of the creators, a crew of roughly
100 workers began lowering thousands of steel bases onto
the walkways of Central Park yesterday in preparation for
the biggest public art project the city has ever seen, at
least since the park itself was designed in 1857: "The
Gates," by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The workers, who ranged from musicians to out-of-work
actors to forklift operators, gathered at 7 a.m. at the
Central Park Boathouse for a briefing by, among others, the
artists. A little while later, at the staging area at 102nd
Street just beneath the Harlem Meer, where the steel bases
were stacked, men and women in yellow vests waved orange
caution flags at pedestrians while others, wielding
measuring tapes and string, began carefully placing the
bases in areas designated with a stenciled maple leaf,
about 12 feet apart. Eventually, the bases will support
7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels
along 23 miles of the park's pedestrian walkways - from
59th Street to 110th Street, east and west.
The $20 million project, a quarter-century in the making
and financed by the artists, will go on full view on Feb.
12 and remain until Feb. 27. It is expected to attract
thousands of art lovers from around the world. The artists
are trying to create "a visual golden river appearing and
disappearing through the bare branches of the trees,
highlighting the shapes of the footpaths," according to a
brochure explaining the project. The color was chosen to
cast a warm glow over the park at a gray time of year.
Though Christo and his collaborator and wife,
Jeanne-Claude, were in the park yesterday greeting the
crews, most days Christo has been closeted in his SoHo
studio making drawings of the gates as fast as he can. As
soon as he finishes a work, Jeanne-Claude gets in touch
with an interested collector or museum to try to sell it in
order to pay for "The Gates."
"He only has 40 more days left to make the preparatory
drawings," Jeanne-Claude said in a telephone interview on
Sunday. "Once 'The Gates' are up, Christo stops drawing."
In 2004, she said, the couple sold $15.1 million worth of
Christo's creations, everything from recent drawings of
"The Gates" to a sculpture of a life-size storefront dating
from 1964, which the W|rth Museum in Kunzelsau, Germany,
bought for $3 million. They also sold a significant amount
of work in 2003 that will go toward the current project's
In addition to the passionate collectors from around the
world who have bought their work, Jeanne-Claude said,
museums like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the
Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, the San Diego Museum in La Jolla and the W|rth
Museum have all purchased drawings of "The Gates." The
largest of these have been selling for $600,000.
The artists have historically sold their work to pay for
all their public art projects. Over the years, these have
included wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin with more than a
million square feet of aluminum-colored fabric and swathing
the Pont Neuf in Paris with a champagne-hued textile.
Two years ago, when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg first
announced that "The Gates" would come to Central Park, he,
along with officials from the New York City Parks
Department and the Central Park Conservancy, emphasized
that the project would not cost the city a penny. Christo
and Jeanne-Claude are responsible for paying for all
materials, labor and installation. They have also agreed to
pay the city for additional security during the period that
"The Gates" is on view.
The city's Economic Development Corporation estimates that
the project will generate more than $80 million in revenue
for New York during a traditionally dead winter month. NYC
& Company, the city's tourism marketing group, said that
once visitors made the pilgrimage to see "The Gates," they
would also be staying at hotels and going to restaurants,
museums, Broadway shows and other attractions, adding up to
a significant economic boost for the city. (In 1981, the
New York City Parks Department denied the artists a permit
to put up "The Gates," which at that point involved
drilling holes in the ground to stabilize the steel
supports. Over the years, however, Christo and
Jeanne-Claude have modified the project considerably.)
For several months the cafe in the Central Park Boathouse
has been taking reservations for lunch and dinner during
the 16-day exhibition. Officials at the Metropolitan
Museum, whose rooftop is being opened especially for
visitors to view the project, say both its trustees' dining
room and its Petrie Court cafe have been taking
reservations for the same period.
Turning "The Gates" from the artists' 26-year dream into a
reality has taken years of planning and testing. Vince
Davenport, the chief engineer and director of construction,
and his wife, Jonita, the project director, have been
working alongside Christo and Jeanne-Claude since 1989 -
for the last three years exclusively on "The Gates." At
their home in Leavenworth, Wash., they created a life-size
test where 18 gates were installed for seven months through
the rains, snow and high winds of winter.
"I'm under the gun now," Mr. Davenport said. "I sleep till
about 4 o'clock, and then my stomach starts churning." He
has supervised every detail that has gone into the making
of the gates themselves, from finding the right materials -
which include more than 5,000 tons of steel, about
two-thirds of the amount used to make the Eiffel Tower - to
figuring out with park officials how to get the materials
from assembly plants in Queens into the park in a way that
does not disturb the public, to making sure the
installation is as simple as putting together a giant Lego
"There are so many details," he said. "You have to be ready
for anything." He has bought 150 snow shovels to clean the
paths, in case it snows.
From a trailer adjacent to the Central Park Boathouse, the
Davenports run a command center. Mrs. Davenport handles the
day-to-day details. She also hired the crew of 1,100
workers, who have come from 45 different states.
The couple moved to New York two years ago to work on "The
Gates." It is by far their biggest logistical undertaking,
bigger than wrapping the Reichstag or planting a forest of
giant umbrellas in rice paddies near Tokyo.
"You cannot overplan something like this," Mrs. Davenport
said. "Our children are grown up, so we can devote 110
percent to the project."
Describing the workers, she said, "We have retired Air
Force people, doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects,
teachers." Many people who work on Christo and
Jeanne-Claude's projects, she explained, have had
experience in the film industry or in organizing events
like rock concerts. There are several different kinds of
workers; the most inexperienced are paid the minimum wage,
$6 an hour, plus one free hot meal a day; professional
workers, like the forklift operators, are paid a salary for
the entire project.
All the hiring was done by e-mail messages. Once word
spread that they were gearing up for "The Gates," Mrs.
Davenport said, she received inquiries from more than 2,000
applicants, out of which she chose 1,100.
"Christo and Jeanne-Claude give first preference to local
workers," Mrs. Davenport said. "And to those who have
worked on previous projects. They recognize loyalty."
Each worker gets a special "Gates" uniform (to keep)
designed by Christo. Jeanne-Claude declined to describe it,
saying she was afraid that if she did, there would be a
rash of knockoffs for sale.
Traditionally, Mrs. Davenport said, the workers are a
jovial group. "Lots of long-lasting friendships are made,"
she said. "There's always a baby born after every project.
But this one is in winter, so we'll have to see."