The Inexplicable Magic of The Gates by
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Prompted By Art’s Impact

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The Gates – Central Park, New York  2005

The Inexplicable Magic of The Gates 

I’m an art-lover and avid museum-goer with what I guess is eclectic taste.   For example I don’t like abstract art.  (See In the Abstract)

And yet though I prefer representational art,  I also like art that’s a bit phantasmic like Franz Marc’s blue horses,  and Marc Chagall’s flying bovines.  (See Chagall’s Cows)

And there are two contemporary artists with radically different styles whom I admire and whose artwork I own.   (See Danielle Mailer, Artist Extraordinaire,  and Our Philip Pearlstein Nude)

I also greatly admire Judy Chicago whose art carries a message that resonates.  (See The Dinner Party)

And I enjoyed the creativity of my parents who were both artists.  (See Still Life and My Father, the Outsider Artist)

But in a class by itself are the site-specific installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  As you may know,  Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s world-famous projects include Berlin’s Reichstag,  the building the couple and their crew wrapped in 100,000 square meters of silver fabric in 1995;  and the 1991 Umbrellas Japan – USA project when they erected over 3,000 giant blue and yellow umbrellas simultaneously in Ibaraki,  Japan and on the Tejon Mountain Pass in California.

Wrapped Reichstag – Berlin

Umbrellas – Ibaraki, Japan

Umbrellas – Tejon Mountain Pass,  California

Both born in 1935 – he in Bulgaria and she in Morocco of French parents –  Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon met as young artists in Paris,  married in 1960 and began working together to conceive,  elicit funding,  and install their environmental projects.

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009,  and Christo in 2020,  and the following year both were honored posthumously in Paris when their former crew wrapped L’Arc de Triomphe in 25,000 square meters of silvery fabric and 3,000 meters of red rope.

Wrapped L’Arc de Triomphe – Paris

But thankfully back in 2005 we New Yorkers got to know them when Christo and Jeanne-Claude brought The Gates to Central Park.

The artists and their crew installed 7,500 vinyl “gates” along 23 miles of pathways in the park and hung panels of orange fabric from each.   Then on February 12,  New York’s Mayor Bloomberg,  with Christo and Jeanne-Claude at his side,  officially opened the exhibit and for two weeks thousands of New Yorkers and tourists walked through the park and passed under The Gates.

Of course the project had it’s detractors – some  felt the installation defaced the landscape or obstructed cyclists or prevented visitors from enjoying the park.   But for me and I’m sure for most of us who walked under The Gates in that grim February weather,  the experience seemed inexplicably magical,  as if a ray of sunlight was following us thru the park!

And it was a constant topic of conversation.   “Have you seen The Gates yet?”,  we asked our friends,  and I even remember asking strangers on the bus.   And day and night Central Park was full of happy crowds.

Each time I was in the park everyone I saw seemed to have the same reaction – an irresistible urge to smile,  and inevitably I bumped into someone I knew,  and I even met my mailman there one day.   And once I passed a guy with a very frisky dog  on a leash.   “She’s not always this excitable”,  he said pointing to his dog,  “she feels the energy and knows something special is going on.”

At that time my friend Shel and I played tennis in the evenings at courts north of the city.   Driving home I’d take the 96th Street transverse through Central Park,  and turn south on Fifth Avenue.   Then driving down Fifth I could see some of The Gates that extended to that corner of the park,  and as I drove by the sight always made me smile.

Then one night coming home from tennis,  I exited the transverse and heading down Fifth I turned my head to look toward the park,  and my heart sank.

The exhibit had ended and The Gates and their inexplicable magic were gone.







Jeanne-Claude and Christo

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: The Gates, Christo, Central Park, New York City


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a brilliant approach, Dana, to focus on the magic of art, rather than the more literal sense of “magic.” And art, indeed, can be magical.

    More particularly, I completely agree with you in your assessment of The Gates as magical. And I started with a deep skeppticism of the project. It just seemed so artificial and just a tremendous amount of effort directed toward something both meaningless and ephemereal (I knew it would be taken down after a while).

    And yet….. Despite that skepticism, my wife and I csually decided one day to walk to Central Park (we kept a small apartment about ten blocks south of the Park) and check it out, especially as the bright orange “gates” were so visible. And we were both transfixed; we just kept walking back and forth and between and around them for what felt like hours, or perhaps only a moment. And, in the end, we couldn’t describe what “it” was about the Gates, but “it” was so clearly there.

    And “it” was truly magical.

  2. Marian says:

    How fascinating that the “magic” vibes of the Gates rendered dogs and people excitable, Dana. Art can have magic effects, as many of us have experienced (like my Stendhal syndrome episode in London). Thanks for the details on Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    “The Gates” reminds me of other entrancing immersive art experiences—the Bean in Chicago, Gehry structures, Serra sculptures—they create unexpected emotions. Sorry I never saw The Gates but you described them beautifully.

    • Thanx Khati, and I’m sorry not to have seen the art you mention!

      But thinking about other art experiences that seemed magical, there are Antoni Gaudi’s buildings throughout Barcelona, and Diego Rivera’s murals throughout Mexico City seen on memorable trips to those two fascinating cities!

  4. Suzy says:

    Thanks for this marvelous story about Christo and Jeanne-Claude and The Gates. I associate their names with an installation called Running Fence, which was erected north of San Francisco when I first moved out here. I can no longer remember if I actually saw it, or just saw all the pictures and news coverage about it, but that was amazing too. Reading about it now, I see that it took four years to create it, it was completed on Sept. 10, 1976, and its removal started 14 days after completion.

  5. Wonderful and evocative memory, with sufficient historical context for those of that never knew the origin story of Christo, or Jeanne-Claude. Your ending reminded me of the way Buddhist monks spend many hours over several days building a “sand mandala,” which is quite beautiful, using multiple colors of sand to create representative art. And then at the designated time, a few days after completing it, they dump the sand into a body of water (a river or some nearby pond or other aquatic destination). I guess it was like that when the city and the artists removed the Gates?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for sharing the magic of the Gates and other installations by Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Wish I had been able to see them in person. As to Khati’s comment — Of course, as a Chicagoan, I have seen the Bean many times and love taking photos of our reflections in it. The images are magical.

  7. Yes, you make a good argument for Christo, and whatever it was that he was purporting to do, and I understand that he funded w private donations, but his “art” does seem to me to be face paint on a clown, not covering the tracks of my tears. I’d sooner he packed his billows and cleared the view.

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    We actually own a lithograph by Christo, purchased in 1985, so we’ve known and followed their work for a long time. And you know that I enjoy and follow lots of artists. So when this project came up, we just had to go to NYC to see it. Vicki was still home, and she also enjoys visual arts and and the three of us wandered around Central Park, in around and through the gates for some time. I have many wonderful photos of us in front of the bright orange fabric. When Christo passed away, I texted a great shot of her in front of one in his memory to her. It was, indeed, a wonderful experience.

  9. Dana:
    Your Prompt gave me an appreciation for Christo I had not enjoyed before. I regret having missed being in the presence of his works.
    What convinced of your emotional significance of Christo’s works was the reaction by the dog in the gates. Having had many dogs, I think they sense the world better than we do.

  10. pattyv says:

    What a fascinating look at art through your experiences Dana. I sadly missed the Gates. Being from Jersey, I rarely made trips to city in the winter unless a play or concert was on the agenda. But I love how you filled me in with so much history and details and also the wonderful pics. It must have been magical.

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