Gates of Central Park from high above Central Park South.
1:30 PM. Photo: JH.
was grey. And cold of course, although not too. I was invited
to an “unveiling of The Gates” party on Fifth
Avenue by Fredi and Steve Friedman. It was called for nine o’clock.
Groan. At nine o’clock I was still locked in my deep fatigue
from having been up late.
Saturday is a day I prefer having no appointments, dates or social
obligations, or even phone calls — having just finished
out a week of them. However, because of the Christos, this was
Saturday in New York. I finally rose from my torpor with the feeling
that everyone would be heading toward Central Park for a look,
like it was when you were a kid and didn’t want to miss the
About noontime I went with JH and the Digital over to the penthouse
terrace of Boykin Curry and Celerie Kemble who live on Central
Park South. There were crowds at the foot of the Park on Fifth
Avenue already. From that corner you can see the “The Gates.” At
first they were very foreign to the eye, and, a Saturday, they
were not particularly pretty under those seemingly chronic cloudy
New York winter skies.
Curry/Kemble terrace is sprawling with enough room
for chairs, benches, buffet tables and maybe a game of badminton.
It has a
magnificent view of the entire Central Park and its residential
periphery. From there, twenty-seven floors up, "The Gates" stood
out of the brown thicket of defoliated trees below, because of
their hot orange color. But that was it. City views, Park views
from a higher elevation are always intoxicating, no matter what.
The Christos’ project, from that vantage looked almost disappointingly
inert. You might have wondered if it were really such a good idea
in the first place.
Curry and Celerie Kemble
An aside, on the subject of Art and Artists: Peggy
Siegal introduced us to another guest, Jason
Blum, a film producer who also happens
to be the son of Irving Blum, one of the great
20th century art dealers who has mainly worked out of Los Angeles.
We talked about
the first Andy Warhol Campbell Soup boxes which Irving Blum bought
(and sold some of) when Warhol first made them. For $100 a piece.
Some of them were sold to Blum’s friends who put them in
their kitchens over their stoves and in their breakfast nooks because
they seemed kitschy. Although not art; not really.
There were thirty-six
in the original series. Twenty or so remained unsold. Finally Blum
made a deal with Warhol to buy all of them over a period of twenty
months at a hundred a pop (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then
Blum bought back the others from people who were happy to have
enjoyed the novelty and getting their money back. He just decided
to leave them to the future. Decades later – two or three,
Irving Blum turned over the series to MoMA. The price was something
like $12 million. Or more than $330,000 a work.
A few minutes after hearing this story, Richard Meier, the
great international architect appeared on the terrace, camera hanging
by a strap around his neck. He’d just come from walking the
pathways under "The Gates." I asked how he liked it. He started
at 72nd Street and walked down to 59th, and was exhilarated. He
it was brilliant architecture. He couldn’t get over how wonderful
it was. He also said it was nothing until you walked around under
A few minutes later, JH and I left the luncheon and did just that.
NO picture can convey the experience because so much happens to
your head as you walk along the pathways. What you see ahead of
you looks so different when you turn around and look at it from
behind. Then the winds and the breezes have their way, when they
do; and always unexpectedly. There are so many Gates that soon
you realize that it has taken over your aesthetic and your experience
of being in the Park. They are much taller than the photos reveal.
And yet they are not overwhelming.
After just a few steps into the Park you’re overtaken by
their presence. There is something amusing about it. The way you
feel when you know someone’s putting you on but you’re
enjoying it. It’s an allusion to wit but you know the Christos
are way ahead of you. They’ve figured out something that
you may never grasp beyond the feeling that you’re enjoying
yourself while all around are thousands of others enjoying themselves
too; all part and partipant in this great metropolitan art project.
Children understand it naturally but its brilliance is that adults
soon after understand it too. They say 200,000 will visit the Park
and experience "The Gates" in the next two weeks. I’d
quintuple that. I’d say a million.
We walked up to the Bethesda Fountain and then I took the road
west to the 72nd Street and Central Park West to make my Saturday
Zabars stop. The Christos lead you every inch of the way with their
astonishing creation. As I was departing, thousands and thousands
more were entering, dumfounded, curious, excited. When it is over
and everything has come down, people will then ponder the power
of this amazing installation for a long time afterwards.
Taking the bus up Central Park West, I was thinking about the Christos.
They’d been trying to get this off the ground since 1979.
Several years ago I was introduced to them by Linda Silverman, the
art dealer, who was helping them lobby for its installation. It
seemed obvious in the “good idea” department but later
when I talked to some Central Park Conservancy people about it,
the response was not encouraging. It was a “No Go.” I
was told that it would hurt the Park which the Conservancy had
gone to great effort to refurbish and maintain. I wasn’t
so doubtful but I couldn’t argue with the Big Guns. In the
end, we can see, it was Michael Bloomberg, now the mayor, who “got
it” and saw its value to the City.
The Christos experience is an example of the power of the imagination,
and an example of the rewards for the efforts of dedication and
Belief In Yourself. There’s information in there somewhere,
for all of us.