In Defense of the Gates

While my esteemed Glassdog co-conspirator was quick to do what people of our generation are prone to do with anything – crush it and dismiss it as worthless so they do not run the risk of being judged as having bad taste or being foolish, I am here to defend the latest Christo endeavor.
The Washington Post article, cited below, takes The Gates not on their own terms, but on the terms of the goals of other works of art. In essence, the Posts’ criticism is like saying “Chris Burden’s I’ll Never Show My Face in Cleveland Again is a pointless work of art because unlike the Mona Lisa, it’s not a painting that captures the imagination of several generations. We must take each work of art first on its own terms and then int he context of its time, and finally in the historical whole. The Post’s critic spends over an hour criticizing using the word “Saffron” to describe the color. Glad he went right for the heart of the piece.
I’ve been a fan of Christo since they (officially Christo is the name both Christo and Jeanne-Claude share when they create art.) since the Umbrellas in 1991. (Yes, I was late to the party.) When i first heard an explanation of the project before tis installation, I was sour on it, but after having some time to sit with the idea, to consider a different kind of public art, I was smitten. By the time they wrapped the Reichstag in 1995, I was a true believer. Hey Gopnik, and all you other haters who say you’re not getting the “puzzling, complex, probing experience we’re supposed to get from significant art,” it sounds like the failure is not with The gates it is you. Consider this:
If nothing else, millions of people, New Yorkers and tourists alike will for the first time consider what it is like to be a part of an artwork. Pass a million statues and paintings and nothing happens, but insert something of such a grand scale into the public discourse, and even the most stubborn citizens suddenly consider themselves on the scale of art. Art is not necessary, but it is indispensable. Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Walter Del Maria’s Lightning Rods are not to be a yardstick to measure the gates by, but cousins for them to live with, each with their own personality and value.
Public art can take on many goals and The Gates works to the ends of showing us how varied paths can be, inviting us to reframe even the most mundane daily passage could somehow elevate our lives to a scale we have not considered. Maybe people are afraid they will not be transformed as much as they would like by the work, and this is what is causing the dissent. To these people I suggest you remove preconception, and experience the work and see what it does to you. Even if the answer is “nothing but annoy me,” you have had a successful experience, because you have joined the conversation. This work begs for participants rather than critics, but it is always easier to nay say than risk disappointment, isn’t it?

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