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January 6, 2005

Our Guardians and Gatekeepers at the New Criterion

I'll join Tyler in his perplexity over the Armavirumque take from a year and a half ago on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's rather belated Central Park project The Gates, which has finally begun to be erected after a mere quarter-century delay, set for a late-February "opening."

To wit:

Christo's latest scheme is to sell the city back its own Central Park, plus about 15,000 metal gates of his own design, each decorated with colored fabric banners. At $5 million, it's a steal.


And here I was, laboring under the apparently mistaken impression that the cost for the city, as with all of the pair's totally self-financed projects, is a big fat goose egg. (If I'm wrong, someone please correct me.)

I'm not quite sure what Miguel sees in these guys.

Equally perplexing is the Roger Kimball opinion piece (a rant, really) from the Wall Street Journal that Armavirumque's Stefan Beck linked to, what's mostly a stock standard needling of contemporary art as "a joke on the viewer."

Rattling through a handful of tried and true chestnuts (giving a requisite nod to the "gullible" and "avaricious" art dealers of Chelsea), Kimball takes the duo to task for their postmodern effeteness and entrepreneurial derring-do, and offers a modicum of outrage over the notorious accidental death of a tourist in connection with The Umbrellas, installed years ago in southern California. He doesn't really mount any argument to speak of, but I suppose he doesn't have to, considering the audience. It's all pretty scattershot stuff, but nice work if you can get it (to cop a phrase).

The only real points he makes regarding The Gates, per se:

Still, some observers thought it obscene that the project would cost about $1 million more than the entire maintenance budget for Central Park. And why, after all, should the pair be allowed to capitalize on a public space for private profit? Then there were the environmental concerns: What would all that material do to the trees and landscaping of the park? And what about the public? Perhaps it wanted to be able to enjoy Central Park straight, unmolested by the massive intrusion of Christo's "statement."

"None of the original objections have really been answered," he writes. Then again, perhaps they have. But we mustn't let reasonableness get in the way of a good reactionary harangue, however weak.

The obscenity of the cost of it all, while offering a certain dose of perspective, is really a non-issue considering that none of the cash is coming out of the city coffers (again, as far as I'm aware). And environmental concerns have apparently been addressed to the satisfaction of the Central Park Conservancy, per the Gordon Davis editorial linked above (also via Beck at Armavirumque, for what it's worth), so I'm not inclined to put up a fight:

What caused me to reverse my views? For one thing, Christo altered his project. Originally, there were to have been 15,000 gates installed in mid-fall, a period when the park sees extremely heavy use. This time around, there will only be half that number and they will go in during February, when the interference with other park activities and users will be minimal. In addition, each "Gate" will rest atop the path surface, secured by its own weight rather than by footings drilled into the park's fragile landscape, as called for in the earlier proposal.
But more important to me by far than the revisions to Christo's project has been the change in Central Park itself. From the very beginning, the issue for me was not the art—which I had come to respect—but the park, as my 1981 report sought to make clear.

And as Davis also points out, Christo's enterprise is hardly the first to utilize the park grounds for such a brief stint, citing as examples the New York Marathon and Shakespeare in the Park—although I'm sure many a patron would prefer to enjoy the park unmolested by the Bard's wit and wisdom as well.

I'm curious, too, what the Journal's uber-capitalist readership thought of Kimball bristling at Christo's ability to "capitalize on a public space for private profit." Really, will those New Critters ever get off this socialist hobby-horse of theirs?

Eventually, Kimball comes to the heart of the matter, chalking up Mayor Bloomberg's keeness for public art to be some sort of Marie Antoinette-style gesture toward all those oppressed NYC cigarette smokers gathered in huddled masses outside the city's drinking establishments, yearning to breathe free and what not, freezing for want of a smoke:

Mr. Bloomberg does not want you to smoke. He wants another hefty chunk of your income in taxes. But he plans to compensate with lots of public art. It's a 21st-century version of "Let them eat cake."

Art critic sees increased visiblity for public art, cries: "Bread and Circus." Communist.

Related... Todd Gibson offers his take (and has the Missus put him in his place)... Plus, "Killer umbrellas! Of course! Exquisite."

"Our Guardians and Gatekeepers at the New Criterion"
Posted by Dan at 05:24 PM


I think that Kimball's opposition was pure knee-jerk.

Posted by: David Sucher on January 11, 2005 at 10:43 PM

Referenced in this post:

Armavirumque: Christo watch
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Gates
From the Floor: Put in My Place
From the Floor: The Gates? How about The Subway?
Iconoduel: I'm just a nut who couldn't build a barbecue
Modern Art Notes: New Crit doesn't disappoint
Modern Kicks: never going back to my old school
New Criterion
Opinion Journal: Christo Reconsidered—Gordon J. Davis
Opinion Journal: It's a Wrap—Roger Kimball