Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Gates

Well, Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates are coming down starting Monday, and must be completely down in a couple weeks. I was pleased that C. and I got to explore them up close. I tend to be a fan of Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's spectacles and had wanted to see the wrapping of the atoll, the bundled Reichstag, and those umbrellas in California. (Very unlikely.) There's a whiff of charlantry about them, which I tend to admire, as well as genius. I link them to landscape artists and those like Smithson and Tobey working with large-scale earth installations; the earlier conceptualists (from Duchamp onwards) to later incarnations, including the Fluxus folks; Clark, Pape and Oiticica; and spectacle-based artists who attempted to create public, participatory and liberatory experiential artworks; the anti-commodity and self-deconstructive art of Joseph Beuys; installation art; pop art; and the monumentalist traditions in art and architecture. Certainly there are many more possibilities. Aesthetically, I see Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's art aiming towards sublimity, through its scale and the participants' apperception, yet there is the issue of its banality, its kitschiness--of materials, color, and so on. Who all does this take into account? Kant, certainly, ethically and aesthetically, but also such figures as Hegel, Nietzsche, Pater, Dewey, Greenberg, Sontag, Lyotard, and certainly Heidegger (talk about "setting forth a world!"). I also see critiques of the contemporary exchange value of art which point to Marx and Engels, as well as to later figures like Bloch, Adorno, Bourdieu and Althusser. Capital, yes--but exactly how does it figure into the creation and experience of The Gates? Whose labor are we talking about? Don't the masses of people required to mount and break down such creations challenge (while also magnifying) the traditional atelier model? How does such a utopian-seeming, ephemeral work (which will, in eco-friendly fashion, be recycled) fit into the commodity system? Yes, he raised the money through sponsorship, though none of the gates were visibly "branded" as such by corporations; people were marching through the park with all kinds of food and electronic gear; it drew tons of out-of-towners, including yours truly, to Bloombergistan; and Christo maintains the copyright and rights to the images--or so I read--though not each person's memories.

The Gates (I can't yet post pictures!)

At any rate, I wanted to approach the concepts behind them and my experience with as much openness as possible. No theory, just walking through a space I love, with a man I love (my partner C.), experiencing those bright-orange...gates. Actually, they reminded me more of staples or hurdles, though on a scale for titans (or Gargantua and Pantagruel). The saffron vinyl curtains And the immediate effect upon entering the park from Central Park West was...a letdown. At first. Immediately, however, I noticed the throngs of people moving through The Gates and the way both these phalanxes and the gates themselves snaked before and behind us. Against the zinc Sunday sky and the blanched colors of the wintry terrain, with our own voices and those of children and adults and dogs and the ducks ribboning into the chilly air, The Gates were transformed into a breathing, orange, latticed sensorium. As we walked the paths, I made a point to glance upwards at the swaying curtains, and because of the wind patterns, none were the same. Above they might be flapping, while still several yards ahead, or vice versa; and they created a striking visual frame for the familiar, yet constructed world of that amazing park. They were both structures of limit, highlighting the already built walkways, but they also unsettled the familiar visual patterns. We crossed over to the east side, left to get some coffee and nosh, then reentered along the edge of the Reservoir. That was perhaps the highlight. A vast, silvery mirror, on whose western edges blurry orange fringes shimmered, like a necklace of otherwordly lights. I loved the effect, and the immensity of the Reservoir made me think of Kant's mathematical and dynamical sublimes connecting with Lyotard's "il y a" in a way that much smaller scale art (save Yves Klein's blue paintings or Ronald K. Brown's dances) does not. (Sianne Ngai's "stuplime" would be an apt partial description of my own response.) What clicked was the necessity of such vast (and already constructed) spaces for such artwork, which creates a shifting frame and both reconstructs and deconstructs what it adorns. I also fathomed how crucial perspective (in this case actually just being there, as well as other elements such as the weather, time of day, etc.) is in the experience.

I tip my hat to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Charlatans perhaps, but geniuses as well. Now, when are they going to wrap the Pentagon?

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