Earlier this week, we at NYU Abu Dhabi were treated to a visit by the artist Christo, who spoke about one of his signature projects — The Gates — which took place in Central Park in February 2005. The project was conceived in the late 1970s by Christo and his wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude, who passed away two years ago tomorrow. The city repeatedly refused Christo and Jeanne-Claude permission to mount the project, until Michael Bloomberg became mayor. He gave it the go-ahead immediately, once the pair reapplied for a permit.
I fell in love with the Gates project and went to see it — no, experience it, immerse myself in it — as many times as I could. I made sure to see every bit of the park during the sixteen days it was up and reintroduced myself to areas I had visited since my childhood. The Gates transformed the Park’s bleak midwinter with its explosion of color; it compelled many New Yorkers who had become blase about this jewel in the midst of Manhattan to see the Park afresh. On one visit to the Northwest corner of the Park, I was lucky enough to coincide with a visit to the area by Jeanne-Claude and Christo themselves and was able to watch them — from afar — enjoy their creation. Both of them refer in the film to the works of art as their children, and it was a parent’s joy that they seemed to exude as they looked at what they had done.
The process by which the project was conceived, planned, and ultimately mounted is beautifully documented in a film called The Gates (2005) made by Antonio Ferrera and Albert Maysles and originally shown on HBO. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were meticulous about documenting their work, not only by preserving drawings and other artifacts, but also by having the process of approval and construction filmed. The documentary work on The Gates was begun by the legendary documentary team of Albert Maysles and David Maysles, who first became famous for their legendary film