Gates of memory


The Gates, mixed media including altered photograph by Wolfgang Volz, fabric sample, etc. (c) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

It was 12 years ago today (Feb. 22, 2005) that I went to New York City to see The Gates, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installation in Central Park. There had been snow the day before, but the weather moderated, and the snow was grainy and melting.

Digression – how many notable snows do you remember? I find a few stick in mind, but many of them are memorable not for themselves, but for their presence in memorable situations. Of course there are the snows of childhood, which (in those pre-climate change days) built up into banks as high as my head. There is the snow I’m writing about today, which was no impediment to enjoying The Gates. There was the snow around the sequoias in the Sierra Nevada. In 2012 I remember getting out of the car and patting a snowbank in southern California, simply because I hadn’t seen snow in a long time. Context is everything. End digression.

I didn’t go alone. Much to my surprise, my parents expressed interest in seeing it. Their attitude toward contemporary art was usually one of polite bafflement, but they had spent the first years of their marriage in New York City, and felt a lasting connection to it. (Greenwich Village in the early 1950s! Imagine!) We walked through the park, and went to the Met afterward, where I bought a book on The Gates. I wrote the date on the title page.

The Gates is not Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s best work. The supports looked clunky and uninteresting; the fabric curtains had the feel of a shower curtain. But when the breeze caught the curtains one after another it was like a line of dancers moving through their steps. My eye was drawn down the line, catching the undulating paths and changing the way I saw the park. People from many different countries and all walks of life shared the space, sharing physical space and the altered space of the artist’s vision. People reached up to touch the curtains or let their hands brush the supports. Everyone seemed to be smiling. It was a good day all around. I am not inclined to nostalgia myself, with a very few exceptions, and those often as inexplicable as my memorable snows. In this case, I savor a little taste of the past, and thought I’d share it with you.



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