The Gates : a musical enhancement


By Noushin Ehsan

After conceiving of the idea for “The Gates” in 1979 it took twenty-four years for New York City to grant artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude permission to realize their vision in Central Park. Unfurled on February 12, 2005 the 7,500 saffron-colored gates lined twenty-three miles of the park’s footpaths. The 16 foot tall rectangular poles with free-hanging fabric panels created a visual river, disappearing and reappearing through the branches, serving to highlight the path of trails. As with all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work The Gates’ presence was temporary—just over two weeks—but the memory of their vibrant presence remains.

Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath

Walking through The Gates in Central Park I felt as if I was experiencing a piece of beautifully composed music, with every part of my being and with all of my physical senses. I was saddened when it was taken down but an even greater sorrow came from hearing the often harsh criticism of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s intervention. It was hard for me to believe that some did not like the work. However, after reflection I have come to understand that those who did not like it had not allowed themselves to simply experience the enhanced space. Instead, these detractors had merely looked at The Gates as one might a painting, gauging only their visual response to the project -- and therefore altogether missing the spirit of the space.

Sometimes, we see the object and some time we feel the impact of that object in the setting. If you were to just look at the pictures or only look at the structures as objects, Christo’s work could be reduced to insignificant tectonic elements. In form alone, it is understandable how people might observe the structures as massive and ridiculous and the color offensive. However, Christo’s Gates were not meant to be observed only through pictures or as structures nor valued as sculpture. The Gates were created in order to intervene with the surrounding settings and enhance the experience of space and light in the park. They weren’t meant to be separated from its surroundings as a sculpture can stand in a museum. Some people go to see art simply to observe and judge it while others experience the influence the art has on them. Those who did not like The Gates may have expected grand sculptural art displayed in the park. Therefore they were not receptive to the overall experience created by the interaction between The Gates and the park.

Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath

As one does not go to a concert to see the appearance of an orchestra that performs music, one should not have gone to The Gates to see structures/sculpture The gates were interventions that were meant to change people’s perspectives as music changes people’s feelings. The Gates was music that was composed for one instrument-the range and harmonious ability of the park’s components. The melody was expressed with a rhythm in the topography and natural settings. The Gates brought forth the value of the crescendo and decrescendo which exist in the pathways of Central Park. Grand convergences of different sized gates facing different directions dancing in the wind created intricate chords that reached the highest notes. The music was melodically magnificent with a tension between the structural Gates and the organic curves of the pathways. Those who went to just see gates missed out on the music that could not be seen, but felt.

The Gates was a lyrical composition that used all the facets that Central Park offers. Each gate was an opportunity to look through a window that framed something special: a tree limb, a squirrel, the window of another building beyond. When the gates were further apart, the cold was more noticeable and the view of the park setting became wider with the larger frames. These larger frames forced one to take in a different view and change perspective. The dull grays of winter were brighter and bolder against the saffron, and the bare tree limbs were full of the blue sky beyond, when framed within twirling fabric. The castle within the park, beautiful and unique on its own, was left alone in its own setting. Opposite its site stood many dense brightly colored gates that contrasted the calm and solitude castle.

Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath

There were critics who criticized that The Gates were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In contrast I believe the saffron color brought warmth and light to Central Park in the middle of a cold winter. When walking through gates that were placed close together, the drapes became a shelter, further warming the space while funneling people through. Observing the smiles on people’s faces and even the excited dogs that were jumping up and down was heart warming. The enormous crowd that Central Park was host to was happy and I felt connected to everyone as if I were in a cozy place. The Gates could have been placed in Central Park anytime of year however, as music will sound differently in a gymnasium versus a concert hall, the time of year would have changed the feeling and impact of The Gates.

Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath

The Gates enhanced the spirit of the park and was the greatest example to understand the meaning behind the spirit of space. All people had to do was put their point of view aside and simply allow themselves to experience and to feel.
Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath


Photo credit: Deanna Culbreath
" The Gates’ presence was temporary—just over two weeks—but the memory of their vibrant presence remains. "