A Tribute to Jeanne-Claude: A Year After (part 2/3)

That summer of 1995, I was at a dinner party in Southampton and was enthusiastically describing the beauty and power of the Wrapped Reichstag to Marquette de Bary my dinner partner. When he asked what project the Christos wanted to do next, my response was immediate, “The Gates” in Central Park.  Mark mentioned that his wife Pat was the President of the Women’s Committee and that there was a man very involved in the Central Park Conservancy who might be of help. They organized a dinner at their home in September for us to meet. Guess who was my dinner partner this time? Mike Bloomberg, private citizen and CEO of Bloomberg LLP.  When I told him that I had been the director of the contemporary art department at Sotheby’s and was now a private dealer, he bluntly announced that he hated contemporary art. Strike one, I turned my head to talk to the gentleman on the other side. However, we continued our conversation and I did my best to describe the projects that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had created over the years.  It was not an easy sell… In l979, Gordon Davis the Parks Commissioner had turned down their proposal and the project lay dormant all these years. Since 1980, Central Park was run by the Central Park Conservancy founded by Betsy Barlow Rogers which raised private funds to maintain and restore the park. This group consisted of a powerful conservative group living on or near Central Park. You can imagine what their reaction would be to have 15,000 orange gates installed in the park for a couple of weeks.
Shortly after the dinner, Mike organized a meeting with Ira Milstein, Chairman of the Central Park Conservancy board, in his office which he attended.  Armed with many catalogues and books of previous projects from Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the presentation was made.  It was virtually impossible for the group to grasp any part of the artists’ intent, that it would be a temporary installation and that they do not require any funding. Concerns included damage, security, and crowding in the park. The recent Reichstag  project in Berlin had been very successful. It had attracted a huge increase in tourism and in fact the German government had asked the Christos to extend the installation past the usual 14 days. Mike asked what would happen if the artists ran out of money.  In fact, this had been an issue with the Reichstag and Deutsche Bank loaned them $5m against their own collection.  No problem, there would be no requests for money. When asked what I was doing there and what I wanted on their behalf, my response was immediate and to the point!  Permission to go forward with the project.  Just say YES!
The next step was a meeting at the Christos’ studio with Mike Bloomberg, Pat de Bary and Nancy Misset, President of the Women’s Committee. We all headed downtown together with Mike’s car following mine. It was a contrast in uptown — downtown thinking and being. We all walked up the steps to the second floor. Upon entering,  Mike asked Jeanne-Claude about the Umbrellas project in Japan where one man was killed and oddly enough another one at the same time in California.  She answered in the affirmative and said this occurred when there was an electrical short when they were dismantling the large concrete bases for the umbrellas. They took a decision to immediately close down the project.  It was hard to believe that Mike brought this up right away, possibly to clear the air. After this inauspicious beginning, the uptowners seemed taken with the artists and the visit went well.  Christo brought out several large drawings of the Gates and explained with great enthusiasm what they wished to do in the park and how it would look from different areas in the park.
Many more meetings followed including Regina Perrugi, President of the Central Park Conservancy who did not favor the project at all. One particularly difficult meeting was with Doug Blonsky, the landscape architect who took us on a tour in one of park’s golf carts on a brisk March morning in 1996. It was a breakthrough for the Christos to be in the park and have the opportunity to see the progress that had been made under the Central Park Conservancy stewardship. However, often throughout the tour, when Christo stated “We will put the gates over here, near the statutes, etc and over there, Doug would say, “No Christo, we cannot have any gates here or there and Christo would become very agitated. His original plan was to put 15,000 gates in all areas of the park.
The overall feeling was that there was too much opposition to “The Gates” and no way to move forward.  Henry Stern, the Parks Commissioner was totally against it as was the Central Park Conservancy Board.  No one thought it would ever get approval. The artists were resigned that it would never happen! No further meetings took place.
In early November of  2001, I greeted the Christos at a Christie’s Sunday brunch and said to Christo, “Mike is going to win the election next week and become the Mayor and we will do “The Gates.” To which Christo promptly replied, “Linda, you are craazy, Mike will never win the election and we will never do ‘The Gates.'” After repeating my original statement, I walked away. It was my firm belief that Mike would win and see the benefit economically for the city after 9/11 to do “The Gates.”  Late Tuesday night Mike Bloomberg became the Mayor of New York. It was a sweet victory! The first call on Wednesday morning was from Christo…” so what are you going to do now that Mike’s the Mayor? My response was that I had no idea but I would think about it and let him know.
In the following days, Mike’s team was being assembled and Patti Harris was chosen as one of the deputy mayors.  Excellent choice! We had met many years prior when my son was a summer intern at Bloomberg through the Trinity High School Program and later my daughter worked for a brief period after graduating from Georgetown. Good news for the art community as Patti had worked under Mayor Koch and was very close to Mike. She was always direct to the point, exceptionally bright, humble and a delight to work with.
A phone call to Patti to discuss “The Gates” project took me by surprise. She was totally aware of the project and knew that Mike had visited  the studio several years ago.  She suggested I contact her in 3 months when the new administration was settled in. This was received with a grain of salt when I reported back to Christo and Jeanne-Claude.