Video: Art lovers leap to see 'The Gates'

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 6/27/2005 2:01:09 PM ET 2005-06-27T18:01:09

At a time when the civic realm is blanketed with corporate promotion, from lampposts to landmarks, the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have shown that it is possible to hang 1,067,330 square feet of nylon in the heart of Manhattan — almost 50 acres of potential display space — without a slogan, trademark or logo and still have a huge draw, over one million people to date.

It's been almost a week and it has transformed the heart of New York. You can tell that by the crowds. Some look on with confusion. Others find pure inspiration. So many different New Yorkers have felt the tug to come experience "The Gates."

"I've been working for the Central Park Conservancy for 20 years and I've never seen these kinds of numbers of people in the park," says CPC President Doug Blonsky.

More than 450,000 people flocked to the park on Sunday — that's seven times more than usual. The city is hoping to generate $80 million in tourism money.

The 7,500 gates stretch out along 58 miles of paved pathways. All of it — every one of them — financed entirely by the dynamic duo of the art world known only by their first names, Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

"That rectangular shape of the gate invites you to go inside," says Christo.

And if you're going to ask them about their inspiration, get comfortable.

"It's a long story. Do you have the time?" asks Jeanne-Claude.

In short: Christo, a Bulgarian, and his "twin," as he calls his wife, Jeanne-Claude, were born on the same day and at the same hour. As a pair, they have done grand art like this before. There were the yellow and blue umbrellas in Japan and California and the pink plastic skirting along the islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay.

So colors are important to our couple. But if you called the gates orange and if you assumed they were intended to match Jeanne-Claude's hair, you'd be mistaken on both counts.

"We have chosen the color saffron not at all because of the color of my hair," says Jeanne-Claude. "My hair has been this color since 1986."

Of course this is New York — a city that's all about strong opinions. People usually either love it or hate it. And so when you ask New Yorkers what they think about these gates, well, you can guess the rest. New Yorkers positively lit up the letters to the editor column this past week. And NBC News went and found the letter-writers.

"'The Gates' has transformed Central Park into a sea of man-made steel and fabric," said one letter to The New York Times.

"I am so grateful to have 'The Gates' in my park," wrote another. "It's a magnificent installation."

"They're squares with curtains hanging from them," said Judith Eisenberg Pollicy while visiting the park. "I’m not a lover of orange."

But some do love orange, or saffron, or just the whole idea.

"Life endures, and the hope is that crazy, wonderful artists will come along and transform parts of our world," says satisfied visitor Jane Isay. "That's what we need."

"The Gates" is free and open to the public in New York's Central Park until Feb. 27. Disassembly begins Feb. 28. For answers to other questions, visit Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Web site.

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