I'm off (finally) to see The Gates today.

I must say, I am mystified by many people's reaction to it. Not that they don't care for it or find it ugly or uninteresting; that's perfectly valid. Reaction to art is highly personal, and especially non-representational art is not for everyone. What I don't understand is the general opposition to The Gates' existence or to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's installations.

The Gates are called self-indulgent, a massive waste of money, a blight, a travesty, a distraction from the beauty of the Park, a scam, and so on. Many people saying these things haven't seen it in person; they object to its very existence. Others live in New York and are opposed to the use of Central Park.

Many complaints focus on the $21 million price tag. It's a lot of money, no doubt. Yet big-budget Hollywood movies routinely cost double and triple that (and beyond), and the public gets nothing from them; they are purely commercial enterprises. Celebrities build homes that cost ten times $21 million, and they are regarded as royalty. Two artists raise private funds to build public art, for all to enjoy or criticize free of charge, and $21 million is beyond the pale. No comprendo.

Regarding the "ruining" of Central Park, that one baffles me completely. It's temporary. A week from now, there'll be no trace of The Gates.

On the other hand, that temporary quality is what some people object to most: "it's a lot of money and fuss for something that only lasts two weeks". Thus is the ephemeral nature of art. Performing arts exist only in the present moment. Surely there is no outcry when an expensive Broadway musical flops and closes after only a few weeks or months? (And no matter its worth, the public can never get free tickets.) Much visual art (sculpture, painting) is permanent, but Christo's work is not. It is visual, but it is experiential; it exists in the moment. Why is this a problem?

The worst reaction, to me, claims that anyone who likes The Gates is falling for a scam. We are all dupes of the great Post-Modern Art Hype. That's just plain offensive. It's also amazingly self-absorbed, as if one's own point of view is the only possible for intelligent, critical-thinking people. All others are dismissed as ignorant.

I wouldn't expect everyone to be jazzed about this event like I am. Again, that's down to personal interests and taste. But give me a little credit.


Kyle Smith said...

Thank you! I'll claim the title of the biggest skeptic of the Gates that's posted on your blog, and I really appreciate this post. You've cleared up several of my questions:

1) Is it permenant?My first impression was, "Gee. So much for the little green space left in NYC." But if it's only temporary, then that's not a problem. On the other hand, it does seem like something of a shame to spend that much on something so short lived. Now I wish I had the opportunity to come visit while they're still up.

2) Where'd the money come from?If it's private money, then it's theirs to "waste." If someone doesn't enjoy it, they haven't lost anything. If someone does, then they've gained something incredible.

3) What's the big deal?I'm not familiar with these artists, but if it were me, I'd look at all the talk about them and say, "Mission: Accomplished" (but I wouldn't do it from a battleship). After all, what's the point of art? It's either to evoke an emotional response or to prompt some thoughtful conversation. These gates have deffinitely done the latter, and I suspect the former for many who have seen them.

Consider me one skeptic turned believer. I'm all for them; I hope you enjoy them; and best wishes to the artists and the park.

laura k said...

Galileo, what an excellent post! You are very sweet to say this.

For what it's worth, the whiners I was referring to never posted here, and are much harsher and more cynical than what you expressed.

Point #3 below is right on the money. I think an artist's worst nightmare is to be ignored as boring or not worth commenting on. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have everyone talking about public art and the Park - and many, many people talking about Art, and that can't be a bad thing.

Thanks for having an open mind.