Manhattan Project; Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Legendary for Wrapping the Reichstag in Silver Cloth, Are about to Raise the Curtain on a New Spectacle in Central Park

By Plagens, Peter | Newsweek, February 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

Manhattan Project; Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Legendary for Wrapping the Reichstag in Silver Cloth, Are about to Raise the Curtain on a New Spectacle in Central Park


Plagens, Peter, Newsweek


Byline: Peter Plagens

On the morning of Feb. 12, when New Yorkers start walking, jogging and bicycling into Central Park, they'll be greeted by a remarkable sight. Some 7, 500 bright saffron "gates"--each 16 feet high with a curtain of orange fabric hanging down to 7 feet off the ground--will festoon 23 miles of serpentine walkways. The result, hopefully, will be undulating, hyphenated rivers of color flowing through a drab winter landscape. Some spectators will remember running under Grandma's billowing clothesline.

The official title of this work of art is "The Gates: Central Park, New York, 1979-2005," and the artists behind it are officially known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Christo--who, like Madonna, forgoes a last name--was born in Bulgaria nearly 70 years ago. At 22, he escaped to Paris and supported himself by painting portraits. One of his subjects was the wife of a French general who had a daughter named Jeanne-Claude. They married, and Jeanne-Claude became a collaborator and promoter as Christo transformed cans, bottles and wheelbarrows into dada-esque sculptures by wrapping them like UPS packages. From there, Christo and Jeanne-Claude progressed to cocooning public buildings. The first was a Swiss art museum in 1968. These projects were defiantly temporary--as are the Central Park gates, which will be dismantled forever on Feb. 27.

The Christos' work is ambitious, elegant and original, but many people, understandably, are puzzled by it. What was the point, they ask, of the 18-foot-high, 24-mile-long white fabric "Running Fence" in California (1976)? Or the entire German Reichstag building wrapped in silvery cloth and blue rope (1995)? Although the post-wall Berlin project had a political resonance (5 million people came to see it in two weeks), the Christos insist their art is an end in itself. No symbols, no messages, no shock value--just big, stunning visual extravaganzas whose purity lies partly in being so impractical and ephemeral. Most people who've seen their works in person--this critic among them--have come away with a feeling of being delighted rather than duped.

--Building the art is often the easy part; the politics are another matter. …

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