Don’t Miss the Gates

Central Park's highly touted new art installation offers one New Yorker little reason for reflection.

But I’ll only know that once they get them the hell outta here.My office is only two blocks from New York’s Central Park and yet, I hadn’t been able to get over to the park to see Christo and his wife Jean-Claude’s latest public exhibit called “The Gates”. I’m heading to Ireland in a few days for a much needed vacation and my friends, knowing that the installation is only up for a few weeks and would be down by the time I returned implored me, “You have to go see ‘The Gates’—don’t miss them!”

So my way into the office this morning I made my way into the Park from my subway stop on 6th Avenue.

My reaction?

“Well…that’s 45 minutes that I’ll never get back.”

To be honest I had heard nothing about The Gates other than “You must see them” from everybody. As I began my journey into the park, I assumed that The Gates were in fact, “a gate-way,” a maze if you will, in which something was to be found at the end of the orange trail.

After about 15 minutes, I realized that I’d been had. I motioned to a passer-by and asked

“Call me an uncultured clod but, can you help tell me what the hell’s the point of this? Someone hung orange drapery all over Central Park and it costs a lot of money?”

His reply, in typical New York fashion, “Yeah, whatever, man, I’m late for work.”

So my initial reaction not withstanding, I tried to give The Gates a chance. After a brisk 30 minute jaunt at 8:30AM, I watched these swatches blow around in the wind, waves of orange, one after another fluttering about in my park.

I felt nothing.

All kinds of anger rose up in me. Was Christo also behind making the “pet rock” a cool fad? Was this simply a ploy by a lot of “arty-farty people” to con the rest of the world into thinking that this is cool?

‘Well maybe they look different in the sun’ I thought. It had been a cloudy morning, but the sun seemed to be breaking through a bit toward the North End of the Park. So off I sauntered to try to find an angle where I could look through The Gates into the shimmering sunlight. My anticipation heightened—one of my favorite scenes in nature is sunlight shimmering off of a lake or a river. In my younger days I would commute on Metro North’s Hudson Line and I loved watching the morning’s sun rise over the Hudson River glistening it’s surface. Mornings for me are always my time for quiet, prayer, reflection and so I was hoping for a similar experience of that contemplative space in the dawn’s early light, facilitated by the Gates.

Ah, a spot of sun. I look through the gate ahead of me with the sun smacking it right in the heart of its big orangey swatch.

Nothing. These saffron Gates were not particularly beautiful at all to me even in the glistening sunlight overhead.

Again, I thought I was missing something. I looked closer.

“Nope, it’s still just Orange drapes,” I muttered.

So I decided to alter my perspective a bit and I walked over to one of the large rocks that overlooks the park’s softball fields to see a different perspective.

I saw The Gates littered throughout the park in maze-like fashion, blocking my usual view of the bare trees, the carousel, the dogs jaunting about. In my typical New York accent I said aloud: “What a friggin’ eyesore!”

These ugly orange gates mask the beauty of a winter’s morning in Central Park. Even
worse for me, as a Catholic, is that the bareness of the trees in the park during Lent have always evoked a particular contemplation and significance for me on my morning walks in the park.

Now The Gates have not only not provoked thoughtfulness, they have actually obscured it for me.

Is there something out there that I just don’t get? Am I in fact an uncultured clod? Or is this just the biggest waste of money EVER (the project’s cost–all of it paid by the artist himself–is approximately $22 million)?

So I looked for reviews of “The Gates” in the New York Times to see what other people were saying about the Gates. Michael Kimmelman covered the opening and loved them. He reported more about the fact that people were coming to the park in droves just to see them, that there was real camaraderie in the park amongst the viewers. No offense Mr. Kimmelman, but there was a real camaraderie in the park long before The Gates arrived.

My boss, Fr Dave, pointed out that people TRAVELED to see these things. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that vacation-planning conversation:

“Honey you know what would be a great vacation? Let’s travel from Columbus Ohio to NYC to see orange drapery being hung from beams in Central Park.”

“Sure honey, great idea! I’ll pack up the kids. We’re gonna see SAFFRON!”

Kimmelman, however, also pointed out in his article that “Victor

Hugo once said, ‘There is nothing more interesting than a wall behind which something is happening.’ This also applies to gates, which beckon people to discover what is beyond them.”

Perhaps that is the point. How often do I notice the beauty of the park that is just two blocks from my office? How frequently do I notice the joy of playfulness in the bike riders, the carousel, the dogs frolicking in the grass?

Do I notice all the homeless people who sleep in the park, who have been displaced these days because of The Gates (the police have been guarding The Gates like Fort Knox)? Surely once the “eyesore” of The Gates are removed are they in fact replaced by something else that I view as an eyesore in human form?

“Oh, don’t miss it” everyone told me. Is there something I’m missing?

Perhaps The Gates are indeed appropriately named. For
me maybe they are an opening to remind myself of the mindfulness I need to have in Central Park: of beauty, of others, of the wonder of all of humanity and my limited time amongst it.

As The Gates are removed, do I dare remove the planks I place in my own eyes that prohibit me from always seeing beauty in my park, in my city, in my life, in the world that God has placed me in each present moment? Or do I just put up a harsh but colorful gate of my own that blocks me from feeling beauty when I’m feeling sad, concern for the less fortunate when I’m feeling selfish, vulnerability in an uncertain world.

Maybe The Gates are indeed not so bad after all.