The Torii of Central Park
For a long time, I've been a fan of the temporary, monumental environmental art constructions of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who today is "opening" their latest project, The Gates in New York's Central Park.
The project, as many of their projects do, have instigated a lot of discussion of "what is art." I'm not confident enough as a philosopher to weigh in on this subject with definitive certitude, but "I know what I like," and I'm strongly drawn to cross the river into the city this weekend to experience at least some of 23 miles of 7,500 gates.
Philosophical modesty aside, the art of these projects is as much in the pre-visualization and in the event of the project as in the final "piece" itself. To me, any piece of art is the creator's attempt to make an ideal idea into a real reality. No reality will ever match an ideal, so a temporary installations like those that Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for feel quite pure to me as "art." Much like music (or theatre to a lesser extent), this art is ephemeral and is based as much in the performance as in the "score" or "design."
And even for those pieces of art that we consider "permanent," where do we find the guarantee that a painting or a sculpture will be here 1000 years from now, or tomorrow. Disasters - natural or man-made - happen. And how many people have actually experienced first hand, for example, the original Mona Lisa as opposed to detail-degrading copies of copies of copies of it.
And for Christo and Jeanne-Claude, I sense that the performance is not only in actual physical piece, but also in the project itself, as they have failed to realize more of their projects than those which have succeeded to make their way through the technical and political hurdles. Jeanne-Claude talks about not relying on patience to get through the years that these efforts take, but of the passion behind it.
One other aspect of The Gates that, as an Asiaphile, I've noticed is a possible source of inspiration. I'm surprised that only in a couple German websites I found via Google, is the word "torii" used. Torii are Japanese temple gates, traditionally colored vermillion, that when through one walks I've heard said to be related to blessings. There is a famous set of torii near Kyoto at the Fushimi Inari Shrine that are on our "to-do list" for our next trip to Japan.
The color, the concept of a path of gates, and from what I expect from both to be a similar (though not identical, due to the difference in the environments of mid-town Manhattan and a small town in Japan) experience tie these together for me, whether I get to them or not. If art is about making one think or feel, whether it lasts for 16 days or for centuries, and whether they are experienced first hand or not, then both of these sets of gates have already accomplished that for me.
File under Christo Gates, and Japan