Wednesday, February 16, 2005

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I know saffron, and The Gates is not saffron


I'm typing this in New York City, about a block from Central Park. As some of you are no doubt aware, Christo has opened up his latest art exhibit, The Gates, in Central Park. This is how he describes it on his web site:

To all visitors of The Gates:
There are no official opening events.
There are no invitations.
There are no tickets.

This work of art is FREE for all to enjoy,
the same as all our previous projects.

This is great -- but ask the New York cabdrivers about this exhibit as you pass through the Park -- as I did -- and what you get is an impressive string of invective (to be fair, part of this is due to the exhibit shutting down some of the cross-park roads -- but only part).

Having seen it, I'm very amused by the headline for Michael Kimmelman's New York Times review, "In a Saffron Ribbon, a Billowy Gift to the City." Now, if Christo and Kimmelman want to call it "saffron," more power to them. To me, the color of "The Gates" is not saffron -- it's safety orange.

This is the biggest problem with the exhibit: approaching the Park, all you think is that the entire area must be under massive construction. It's just a bizarre color choice, and mars what would otherwise have been an aesthetically pleasing exhibit.

For a somewhat contrary take, see Virginia Postrel's take

posted by Dan on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM


(cross posted)
I have a list of three possible reasons people should go to see this massive installation, all of which are sufficient and independent reasons.

1) Aesthetics: You might think they're really pretty. One of the gates by itself isn't that impressive, but at certain points in the park where many of them are visible at once, especially where multiple paths are converging, it's quite impressive.

2) Effort/planning: If you don't find the Gates aesthetically pleasing, it's worth contemplating all the work that went into them. In particular, they had to map out all of the pathways through the park in advance, since the width of the gates changes with the width of the trail you're walking on. Consider the number of person-hours that went into this project and redeem your belief in the power of volunteer work.

3) Walking in Central Park is a good thing all by itself. As long as you don't find the Gates actively displeasing, which I find hard to imagine, you still get the positives of just wandering around a nice park and seeing what people are up to. I was there on the first day of the exhibit and the additional crowds weren't an issue at all in my enjoyment, I don't think future days, especially weekdays, will be worse.

posted by: washerdreyer on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Should've been good ol' red, white & blue if you ask me, 'stead of some euro-commie "saffron" - it's like something that weenie buddhist orientals might put up.

posted by: Gary on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

This is the biggest problem with the exhibit: approaching the Park, all you think is that the entire area must be under massive construction.

A Rush Limbaugh caller and NYC denizen says the same thing.

Of all the images I've seen of "The Gates," the only pretty one is an overhead shot. Are there hot-air baloon rentals in Central Park?

So how long will it take for some PhotoShopper to plaster a certain someone's face on all those banners?

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Thank God I live in Houston, Texas. Only idiots living in a blue city like New York would do something this stupid. Is it something in the water? What explains such ridiculous behavior?

posted by: David Thomson on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

I was with you on the non-saffron-ness of the gates, but then I thought about the (frequently-referred-to-as-saffron) robes of Buddhist monks, in light of which I buy that the gates are saffron. If you do a google image search for "buddhist monks" you'll see a bunch of guys wearing robes that seem to match the color of the gates.

I never thought I would see the phrase "Thank God I live in Houston, Texas." But hey, whatever floats your boat... even if it is the nasty water in the ship channel.

posted by: PJB on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Darn. Couldn't get the trackback thing to work. I think you're missing something here, sir: Philistinism in unexpected places

posted by: Sissy Willis on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Thank God you live in Houston Texas! Ok the color is not Saffron but it did match the artists hair color. Over all I do see what you mean about the construction site look of it. The main thing is that it did not cost NYC any $$ to do the exhibit. The artist was trying to do this exhibit for 18(?) or so years in NY so maybe it started out being cool to make the gates Saffron in 1987. Who knows, but either way I have paid for worse Art exhibits that were inside. Open mind please.

posted by: beergirl on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Usually I'm all for big, conceptual public art. Yeah, it costs money, but so what? That's no reason not to do it. The only question is what kind of impact does it make on the large numbers who see it? This appears to be having the desired effect, so I'm inclined to applaud the couple Christo.

On other hand, the stripped down, dime-store Orientalism of this particular exercise bugs the hell out of me. What does it mean? Are we invoking Buddhist temples of Asia, or inadvertantly paying homage to advocates of Hindutva? Are we going to be pounded in the Muslim press for this? Are we going to read someday about how a terrorist found this display "the last straw"?

Globalization is all very nice except for the fact that when we pick up a pretty flag and wave it we have no idea what messages we may be sending.

That's my downer thought for the day.

posted by: Kelli on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Not saffron? Are you sure?

posted by: Randy Paul on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

I sort of thought it was the shade of orange the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used to use. But it's saffron if you say so.

My first reaction to "Gates" was: "all right, curtains all over Central Park. So what?" I'm not criticizing anyone or drawing any conclusions about culture or politics. I know this aesthetic stuff flies right over my head most of the time, and before anyone says anything I'm well aware it's probably my fault.

You know, after reading what Virginia wrote I also thought about why we should be grateful to the guy who invented Venetian blinds. If it weren't for him, it would be curtains for all of us.

posted by: Zathras on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

So its orange - the impact is the contrast with the dark, leafless sky-clawing trees, the buildings, and the realization that the park is full of graceful curving paths. Even the fact that is so transient somehow fits. Amazing. By the way, much as I love them, I'm not sure cabrivers make the best critics.

posted by: Doug Chalmers on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

by itself, you think "meh." but walk through the park, and its different. Especially on a day with changing light (the day I went was a little cloudier than would be ideal), and especially certain areas of the park. My favorite was the arcade of large trees just south of Bethesda Fountain.

I know what you mean about the construction site thing when you look at one or two near the entrance, but they're not far at all from saffron Buddhist monks' robes and not too far from the actual spice.

It also seems like every schoolkid in New York is being taken there on a field trip, which is a good thing in itself.

posted by: Katherine on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

"By the way, much as I love them, I'm not sure cabrivers make the best critics."

Nonsense. Cab drivers are often similar to the small child who blurted out that the emperor was naked. Someone who has "earned" an advanced degree may be nothing more than a slut to the prevailing zeitgeist. The voters of New York overwhelmingly voted for John Kerry. This is further evidence of their immaturity and silliness. Thank God for the red states where people possess some common sense.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

I've got no horse in the "is it saffron?" race and am absolutely not interested in measuring perceived "red state" sensibility against "blue state" frivolity. Everyone will find their nits and proceed to pick them. But speaking as a Brooklynite who was feeling rather cooped up by the annual winter rites of snowstorms, frozen remnants of snowstorms, and nasty northwest winds barreling down the Hudson River, there was no greater joy than going to Central Park on a February Sunday and seeing more people out and about than you might see even on the most glorious of summer afternoons. The Christos' installation was a nice winter gift to those of us who look forward to the barefoot-in-the-park days of spring.

posted by: Tim on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

I'm sure you all know this or maybe even noted it, but saffron signifies renunciation in a few cultures. I'm not sure if this had anything to do with the exhibit, but I chuckled when I noticed that some descriptions called it orange and others saffron.

What did the artist say? Does the artist have any Hindu/Buddhist leanings?

posted by: Balasubramani on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Just another place where homosexual-loving John Kerry voters like Andrew and Dan can gather without reprisal :D

posted by: al on 02.16.05 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

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