Art update

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

Much had changed in the interim in the Central Park Conservancy’s leadership, Adrian Benepe had replaced Henry Stern as Parks Commissioner and Doug Blonsky had replaced Regina Peruggi as President.  These two young talented individuals provided a fresh hope and new possibilities for going forward with “The Gates.”  In due time,  a meeting was organized to visit Christo and Jeanne-Claude in their studio with Patti,  Adrian and Doug. However, despite our hope for more openness to “The Gates,” there was much skepticism on their part.  The idea of bombarding their beloved Central Park with thousands of orange gates seemed preposterous.  The same issues were brought up again and again from the Gordon Davis era. It did not seem likely that we would make any progress even with the new team. Christo was discouraged and didn’t think we’d ever make any progress. However, in my heart of hearts I knew it was the right timing for the project.  It was my view that it would be accomplished with Mayor Mike’s astute financial realization that after 9-ll-01 it was just what was needed to perk up the city and the psyche of New Yorkers, not to mention enriching the city’s coffers.  The Mayor had been informed of the huge success in Berlin during The “Wrapped Reichstag” Project.
After many months, delays and quiet behind the scenes meetings with various individuals involved with the park, it became apparent that there were three major issues that had to be resolved, all overwhelming, challenging and difficult!
l.  No holes in the ground
2. Number of gates i.e size of the project
3. Payment to Central park Conservancy
The first one was the key concern of the Central Park Conservancy and rightly so.  Since the mid l980’s, the park had undergone a multi million dollar restoration with 85% private and 15% city funds. It was an unanimous decision. The board members adamantly refused to allow holes in the ground to install the 15,000 gates.  How to proceed? Upon discussing this objection with Jeanne-Claude she immediately presented their engineer, Vince Davenport with the challenge of solving “the holes in the ground” issue. After much experimenting and revising, Vince created black bases which would be placed on the ground and the gates would be fitted into the bases. Voila! “No holes in the ground.”
The second issue was the size of the project.  In June of 2002, the Mayor set up a meeting with Doug to take us into the park. This time it was a walking tour. We met at the entrance of the West 81st street at 7 am.  It was my suggestion to Christo that we listen to Doug and learn the needs of the park and no arguing. We had to know what would work for the park in order to make progress to gain approval from the mayor. The group consisted of Christo, Jeanne-Claude,Vince Davenport his wife Juanita, Vladimir, Christo’s nephew, Doug and myself.  We walked for hours. It was a hot sunny day.  It was that day that Christo made the decision to create taller gates, 15 feet high as opposed to the original 10 feet high. This was due to the fact that the trees had grown substantially since the 1970s when he first envisioned the project.  Doug led the group and continuously commented on where he would not allow any gates including the Rambles, various pathways where ambulances had to have clearance, near steps, statues, bridges, ponds and many more areas.  Christo listened quietly without any objections.  At the end of the day, I asked Doug to provide Christo with a map of Central Park marking the areas where he wished no gates to be installed and stating that no gates would be installed in those areas.  Christo nodded in agreement.  Now Doug had control of where the gates should be installed according to the park’s needs.  As a result, the project was literally divided in half.  7,503 gates were installed as opposed to the 15,000 Christo originally proposed.
The third issue was a bit tricky as it was a delicate matter.  It came to my attention that the Central Park Conservancy wished to have a donation of $3M.  Upon giving this information to Jeanne-Claude, she immediately objected and said, “Tell your rich friends uptown in the conservancy that we are poor struggling artists and have no money and hung up on me.  After mustering the courage to call her back, I said Jeanne-Claude “il faut profiter” (one must take advantage) with Mike in office and besides  it’s simply the cost of doing business in the park, I know you can get the money together” and quickly hung up the phone.  The money was organized and slowly everything fell into place.
The major issues to get permission to go ahead with “The Gates” were resolved.  The next issue was the timing that is what season to install them in the park.  The artists wished to have no leaves in the trees in order to have compete unobstructed  views of the gates and the saffron fabric.  Their ideal time would be late October, early November, that is autumn. However, the Mayor did not agree to that. He wanted the project done when the park was the least inhabited, that is during the winter and that was that! Christo and Jeanne-Claude agreed with Mike. On January 22, 2003, a 43 page contract was signed with the Mayor and the artists.  Work could now begin on the project.
After two long years of intense planing, the project was officially launched on February 12, 2005, Mayor Bloomberg launched the opening of the project on February 12, at 8:30am with Jeanne-Claude and Christo, with the artists in attendance. By the afternoon, 7,503 gates were unfurled, 16 feet tall varied in width from 5-6 inches to 18 feet, according to 25 different widths of walkways along 23 miles of walkways in Central Park. From each gate hung a panel of deep saffron-colored nylon fabric.  The site specific work of art ran through February 27, 2005, 16 days instead of the traditional 14, to include two weekends.
 The cost of “The Gates” offered by the artists was $21M, although a Harvard case study could only account for $5-6M.  As with all of their previous projects, “The Gates” was entirely financed by the artists through their C.V.J. Corporation (Jeanne-Claude Javacheff, President), with the sale of preparatory studies, drawings, collages and scale models, earlier works of the l950’s and l960’s and original lithographs of other subjects.
The financial benefit to New York City was $254,000,000!