In 1981, the artist Christo proposed an art piece for Central Park, an installation of 11,000 gold banners suspended from 15-foot stakes which they called The Gates . It was roundly rejected by Gordon Davis, the then-Parks Commissioner. In a detailed, 107-page document investigating the impact of the installation on the city’s one green lung, Mr. Davis pointed out that the installation would require “the largest, most comprehensive physical and visual alteration of Central Park since completion of its construction in 1873.” But Christo, who now works with his wife, Jeanne-Claude-both artists go by only their first names-will not let The Gates die.
To lay the ground for a new application for permission to install the art piece in the park, Linda Silverman, a private art dealer and friend of the artists, had a meeting earlier this year with Ira Millstein, chairman of the board of the Central Park Conservancy. Christo and Jeanne-Claude also met separately with Henry Stern, Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, to make their pitch. Ms. Silverman and the artists were then taken on a tour of the proposed path that the artwork would take in the park by Adrian Benepe, the Manhattan borough commissioner of parks, and Doug Blonsky, vice president of operations at the conservancy. The purpose of the tour, according to Mr. Stern, “was to show the Christos how much their art piece would damage the park.” Mr. Stern, who characterized the project as “ridiculous,” added: “I have nothing against Christo’s art, but I don’t think it belongs in Central Park.”
On Nov. 4, the artists took a new tack in their attempt to secure permission for their project. Apparently, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has final authority over the project, even if Mr. Stern cannot be convinced to change his position. In a letter provided to The Observer by Theodore Kheel, the artists’ lawyer, Mr. Kheel appealed to Charles Millard, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Allowing that the artists’ project was rejected in 1981, Mr. Kheel asked Mr. Millard to “undertake to assess the likely economic impact on the city of The Gates .” Mr. Kheel then pointed out that, since 1981, the artists have undertaken four projects in urban areas that have benefited the local economies: Surrounded Islands, Miami , 1983; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris , 1985; The Umbrellas , Japan-U.S.A. , 1991 and, most recently, Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin , 1995.
“The projects were enthusiastically viewed by millions of people in those countries and applauded by officials of government as well as the general public,” Mr. Kheel wrote.
To buttress his claim that The Gates would have the same reception in New York, Mr. Kheel also included a clipping from the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag and even supplied a translation of the headline: “Christo’s 5 Million Visitors Bring D.M. 1.2 Billion.” He also enclosed a March 13, 1996, article from The New York Times in which, according to Mr. Kheel, John Tierney said that he shared the artists’ hope that The Gates would be completed before they died and pointed out that it would bring money into New York City. As of Nov. 13, Mr. Kheel had not heard back from Mr. Millard’s office.
Bernadette O’Leary, a spokesman for the E.D.C., said, “We have received a request, but no decision has been made.”
The Gates has actually become something of an obsession for the artists, who have lived in New York for 33 years but have never had an art installation in the city. Neither Christo nor Jeanne-Claude was available for an interview for this article, but in a 1995 article that appeared in The Observer , Jeanne-Claude said: “What Christo still wants to do in New York is build The Gates.” According to a press release the artists provided to The Observer, ” The Gates will be entirely financed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude through sales of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models, earlier works and original lithographs.” The press release also asserted that ” The Gates will provide employment for thousands of New York City residents.”
Even so, Mr. Stern is still not convinced that The Gates is the best use that Central Park can be put to. “There is great resistance to the project,” Mr. Stern pointed out, referring to the various nature groups that oppose the artists’ piece. “It is an artificial intrusion on the park, and the park is an object of natural beauty. The very nature of the park is as a refuge and a place of nature. To festoon the park with 11,000 orange ribbons is inappropriate. You want to put them on the Reichstag or the Brooklyn Bridge or something like that. If he wants to take a building or a man-made object and garnish it, that’s another matter. He’s a nice fellow. But I think that there is a basic conflict between the park as a work of nature being subject to years of construction for what is essentially a promotion.”
Barbie Among the Impressionists
For those who missed out on the millions of dollars in fine art that was sold at auction by Christie’s Inc. and Sotheby’s Inc. the week of Nov. 9, Mattel Inc. has come up with a solution. “Water Lily Barbie,” the first in a series of Barbie dolls inspired by the artwork of famous artists, finds Barbie dressed in an evening dress that was modeled after Claude Monet’s famous waterlily series. “Glittering sheer pink waterlilies with yellow sequin centers accent the full skirt while translucent beads in blue and green tones cascade over her left shoulder and down the front of the gown.” Need we say more?