Central Park at 150
Still a Pioneer
Art in the Park:
Our Project for the Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
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» An Escape from Reality
Taking Back the Park from Crime
Books About Central Park
We create works of art of joy and beauty that have no purpose whatsoever -- like all true art. It gives us great joy to do this -- and if the public enjoys it, it is a bonus.
We have chosen Central Park for one of our projects because we have lived in SoHo for the past 40 years at the same address, and New York is our town. We wanted to use Central Park because it is in the heart of the city. The 23 miles of walkways we are using go over the entire park from one of the richest streets in the world -- 59th Street -- all the way to Harlem and Spanish Harlem. The diversity of the people living around the park is extraordinary.
There are many parks in the five boroughs of New York City but Central Park is the only one that is totally cut off from anything natural. Riverside Park is by the river, a natural element. Prospect Park is surrounded by lovely houses that have gardens so the trees of the park and the trees of the gardens are mixed together. But Central Park is absolutely cut off from any other natural element. It is a pillow of green encased in concrete.
The Gates Project was started in 1979. It took 24 years to get the permit. Thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Patty Harris, the deputy mayor, we now have the permit. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and park administrator Douglas Blonsky also have been unbelievably helpful.
One hundred fifty years ago when Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted started designing Central Park they surrounded it with a stone wall but they left openings to allow the public to enter the park. There are no gates, but Mr. Vaux and Mr. Olmsted called the interruptions in the stone wall gates and gave them names: Boys’ Gate, Girls’ Gate, Engineers’ Gate, Warriors’ Gate, etc. So the word “gate” comes from Mr. Vaux and Mr. Olmsted.
In our Gates Project, we are going to place 7,516 gates along walkways in the park. The gates are made of vinyl poles 16 feet tall and 5 inches by 5 inches square. The fabric panels, made of a nylon called ripstop, will hang from the horizontal top bar. The project will be ready the second half of February 2005 and will remain in place for 16 days.
This is absolutely a project for Central Park. The geometric pattern of the city blocks -- hundreds of them, all very rectangular -- surrounding Central Park are in harmony with the geometry of our gates. Our gates are perfectly rectangular, a reminder of the geometry of the blocks all around Central Park.
We are using only the walkways for the gates. Mr. Vaux and Mr. Olmsted designed the walkways in a serpentine, noodle-like shape. The fabric panels moving capriciously in the wind will create many round, voluptuous serpentine shapes, a reminder of the design of the walkways.
This project will be in February, the only month of the year in which we can count on there being no leaves on the trees and so from far away you will be able to see the saffron colored fabric.
We are paying for the project ourselves as we have done for all our previous projects. We never accept sponsors.
To prepare the gates, we have rented an assembly plant in Maspeth, Queens. That is where 5,290 tons of steel, 65.11 miles of vinyl poles and 165,352 bolts and self-locking nuts will be delivered along with 15,032 steel leveling plates so we know the gates will remain vertical. One million ninety-two thousand square feet of fabric will be sewn into 7,516 panels, which means 54.11 miles of hems.
Each one of our gates is already numbered and positioned on our engineering map. We did that last June.
On January 3, 2005, we will enter Central Park. Steel weights that will support the gates will be placed on the hard surface of the walkways. We will not dig any holes. Professional workers with forklifts will distribute the steel bases. Each base weighs 700 pounds, and for each gate you need two -- 1,400 pounds. The workers have to deliver them to the exact position according to our engineering drawings.
Then we have a large number of unskilled workers, usually many students who come either on their own or as a class project. Everybody is paid. We have no volunteers.
They will secure to the steel base the assembly made of the two vertical poles and the upper horizontal pole. The fabric panel will be attached to the upper horizontal pole but you will not see it because it is restrained in a cocoon.
Those workers -- probably 700 of them, we don’t know yet -- will elevate the gate, bolt it to the bottom weight and leave the fabric restrained in the cocoon. Each team of seven or eight people will be raising between 70 and 100 gates. By Friday, all the gates should be standing secured, but you still will not see any fabric.
Then on Saturday morning the teams will open all the cocoons. The fabric will be freed. We hope that in one long morning the entire park will have the gates completed.
Then these people will remain as monitors to assist the public and answer their questions. They will distribute hundreds of thousands of fabric samples for free as we do at every project because the public enjoys having a little souvenir.
Then, after 16 days, the monitors will do the reverse work. They will take down the gates, remove them from Central Park and by March 15 everything should be gone and the materials will be recycled.
Christo & Jeanne-Claude are artists who have worked together for more than 40 years. They are best known for their large-scale projects, including “The Running Fence,” a curtain/fence of fabric stretching more than 24 and a half miles from the inland town of Cotati, California to the Pacific Ocean; “Surrounded Islands” in which 11 islands in Florida's Biscayne Bay were surrounded with 6.5 million square feet of pink polypropylene fabric; and the “wrapping” of the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin.
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