Art in Public Spaces - The Gates of Central Park

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The Central Park Gates (2005): Designing Outdoor Spaces

The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005, New York City skyline in the background
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic Collection/Getty Images

Christo (b. 1935) and Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) were a creative partnership and husband and wife team who designed temporary, large-scale art installations that changed the landscape. These photos illustrate their art installation The Gates in Central Park. Conceived in 1979, the Gates were installed in Central Park for sixteen days, February 12 through February 27, 2005

Christo, Jeanne-Claude, and teams of volunteers erected 7,500 bright orange gates on 23 miles (37 kilometers) of walkways throughout Central Park in New York City. Strolling through these colorful structures, you might ask yourself, "Is this art or architecture?"

In their statements to the press, Christo and Jeanne-Claude said that their art installations had elements of many disciplines, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and urban planning. Although not functional like a building or a bridge, the art installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude were carefully planned before they are constructed. Obtaining permits from government agencies was a necessary part of the process.

The result? This seemingly simple art project brought thousands of people from around the world to visit a public space in the middle of a New York winter.

02
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The Central Park Gates (2005): Steel, Vinyl, and Nylon

A single orange gate with suspended orange cloth blowing in the New York City breeze.
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic Collection/Getty Images

The 7,500 Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude were constructed with steel supports encased in bright orange vinyl. Shimmering nylon panels were suspended from the top of each gate. Heavy steel footings anchored the gates. No holes were drilled into the ground or the pavement.

03
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The Central Park Gates (2005): Festive Colors

Man in orange parka stands beneath the orange Gates in Central Park, February 2005
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Visitors wearing bright orange clothing became a part of the festive outdoor environment created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The orange nylon panels suspended from the Central Park Gates captured the pale February sunlight. With a flair for poetry, Christo and Jeanne-Claude called their playful color scheme saffron.

04
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The Central Park Gates (2005): Against An Historic New York Skyline

The Plaza Hotel (1907) overlooks Christo & Jeanne-Claude's The Gates: A Project For New York
The Gates in Central Park after a light snowfall, February 2005. Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images Entertainment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

New York City's dignified and historic turn-of-the-century buildings overlooked the bright orange Gates erected by Christo & Jeanne-Claude a century later. The rectangular supports echoed the angular form of the buildings, while the billowing nylon panels created a flowing sense of motion, like taxis down Broadway.

During the February 2005 installation of the Gates, a light snowfall blanketed the city, making the bright orange banners even more pronounced. The Plaza Hotel (1907) overlooks the snowy Gates like a French king amused by his subjects. The hotel was designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (1847-1918), who also built the Dakota apartments.

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The Central Park Gates (2005): Frederick Law Olmsted's Vision

Orange gates in the foreground, in front of Central Park lake, more gates on the other side, trees, and the NYC skyline in the background.
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Shawn Ehlers/WireImage Collection/Getty Images

When the nineteenth century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed New York's Central Park, he aspired to preserve the natural landscape. What would Olmsted have to say about the brilliant orange Gates created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude?

06
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The Central Park Gates (2005): Art In Motion

People strolling in and around the orange gates in Central Park, a 2005 installation.
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Panoramic Images/Panoramic Images Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The winding paths through Central Park, the bare tree branches, and the soft nylon fabric suspended from the Gates created a sense of undulating motion.

07
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The Central Park Gates (2005): Changing Sizes

Some of the wider gates at Central Park in 2005, the Christo and Jeanne-Claude project.
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic Collection/Getty Images

Christo and Jeanne-Claude spaced each Gate about 12 feet (3,65 meters) apart along the winding walkways through Central Park. In some parts of the Park the Gates were placed further apart rather than cut off low hanging branches.

All the Gates were 16 feet (4,87 meters) tall. However, the Gates were not all the same width. Some Gates were only 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 meters) wide. Other Gates were as wide as 18 feet (5.48 meters). The changing sizes helped create the sense that the Gates were living, growing parts of the environment.

08
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The Central Park Gates (2005): A Public Space Gets Used

Many people, including these two women on roller skates, took advantage of enjoying the public space of the Central Park gates.
The Gates in Central Park Used as a Public Space, February 2005. Photo by sx70/Getty Images (cropped)

Six hundred paid workers installed and removed the 7,500 Central Park Gates according to detailed instructions from Christo and Jeanne-Claude. An additional three hundred paid workers were hired to monitor the Gates and answer questions from visitors. The Central Park Gates project was financed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude through the sale of preparatory studies, drawings, collages, scale models, and other artworks.

Throughout the 16 day installation, Central Park in New York City played host to throngs of curious guests who had come specifically to stroll amongst the art. The Gates became a joyous destination in February 2005.

09
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The Central Park Gates (2005): One Of Many Installations

The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005
The Gates in Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, February 2005. Photo by Panoramic Images/Panoramic Images Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The Gates in Central Park was one of many art installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. During a partnership that spanned fifty years, they created many other enormous creative environments, including:

  • The Surrounded Islands. The artists surrounded several islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida with floating pink fabric.
  • The Pont Neuf Wrapped. The artists wrapped the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with silky fabric.
  • The Umbrellas. The artists dotted two landscapes with 3,100 enormous cloth umbrellas. Gold umbrellas were placed in a valley in Ibaraki, Japan. Blue umbrellas were placed in a valley in California.

If these grand installations seem just a bit too grandiose, you might enjoy viewing a light-hearted spoof of the Central Park Gates, created by Geoff Hargadon in his Massachusetts home. Hargadon calls his miniature installation The Somerville Gates.

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The Central Park Gates (2005): Sixteen Days Of Color, Recycled

The materials used for the Central Park Gates project were ground for recycling.
Recycling the Gates from Central Park, 2005. Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Art installations are temporary. The Gates in Central Park were designed to last only sixteen days. The fleeting nature of an art installation creates a sense of urgency. Visitors know that they must hurry to see the art installation, or they will miss the experience. The experience and the memories become more important than the actual structures.

After being dismantled, the pieces were shipped to  Nicos Polymers and Grinding in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Gilberto Serrano was one of the workers who granulated the pieces of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gates project—a recycling job bound to be remembered.

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Craven, Jackie. "Art in Public Spaces - The Gates of Central Park." ThoughtCo, Jul. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/art-public-spaces-gates-central-park-178170. Craven, Jackie. (2016, July 17). Art in Public Spaces - The Gates of Central Park. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/art-public-spaces-gates-central-park-178170 Craven, Jackie. "Art in Public Spaces - The Gates of Central Park." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/art-public-spaces-gates-central-park-178170 (accessed November 20, 2017).