Swimming with the Razorfishes

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I've received some feedback regarding my posts about The Gates. I'm using the bully pulpit of my 'blog to respond out of sheer sloth; I can't deal with typing individual responses. No one should interpret this as a personal or public attack. Honestly, this is so long I doubt most people will make it all the way to the end, anyway.

It seems that the bulk of the discussion falls into one of the following categories: 1) Christo sucks; 2) The Gates are not art; 3) The Gates are bad for Central Park's environment.

I really can't address the first category; that is opinion. Common knowledge equates opinions with assholes.

Because none of us are ornithologists or biologists, I don't want to belabor the third point. However, I did some research and found out that, other than for some kinds of Owl, February is not mating season for any birds in the park. The idea that the gates will frighten or otherwise cause little bird penises to malfunction doesn't seem to hold water. [If there are ornithologists in the audience, I'd be happy for some clarification here.]

I find the second point most interesting.

I've heard from a lot of people say that The Gates aren't art. Most often, I've heard something like "they aren't art" because "Christo is all about self-promotion and self-aggrandizement."

While those may be valid criticisms, they are criticisms of Christo, not The Gates, and they don't address the art / not art question, either. Rather, they are kind of like a non sequitur wrapped in an ad hominem.

Quite impressive, really.

Criticize the art, or criticize the man, but don't criticize the art by attacking the man. Or vice versa. That just doesn't work. If you don't like the aesthetics of The Gates, address the aesthetics. If you assert that the gates harm Central Park's environment, present some evidence. If you have issues with the money involved, explain those issues.

Try this on for size: I think Eugene Smith was a fucking asshole, but the truth and beauty in his photographs make my head spin. Don't like the guy, like the art. I assure you, this is possible. Here is another: I really don't care for that "wrap the Reichstag" or "surrounded islands" stuff, but The Gates really work for me. Good God, stop it! My world only exists in black and white!

An illogical argument is an illogical argument.

[edit] In fact, the lack of logic doesn't annoy me as much as something deeper. To attack a person's work by attacking the persona seems to be a symptom of our crushing cult of personality. I'm not sure if this is an American thing, or a modern thing, but we seem unable to separate art from the artist. People become known not for what they have done, but for their public image. This "artist before art" mentality really bothers me and is responsible for a lot of nutty behavior.

I've also noticed that the ad hominem arguments seem to come more from "artsy" people than regular Earth people. At the risk of pissing people off, these arguments smack of jealousy more than anything else. Certainly Christo's wealth and notoriety engenders some of that.

I honestly thought that in these post-postmodern times we had evolved past the tiresome "what is art?" debate. Really, I did.

I think The Gates are a beautiful installation, remarkable in scale and execution. Walking through them in the sunshine results in an ever-changing, saffron-tinted scene with beautiful Central Park in the background. Because The Gates cover the paved walkways, they encourage, they beg you to walk around and explore, and to interact with the rest of the people in the park.

I don't remember the last time I walked past so many people in the park discussing art, nor do I remember seeing so many people walking around the park smiling. I'm a little tired of seeing photos of the gates, but that is another issue.

If the little room covered in gold leaf at The Whitney is art, surely The Gates qualify, too.

Most of Central Park is a construct. Nearly every hill and dale, most trees and streams were consciously placed there during the park's construction. It is kept groomed and clean by a small army of people. Central Park is a place of nature, but by no means is it "natural." I don't run around during the Christmas holidays screaming at people for desecrating the natural beauty of their rhododendron bushes, much as I'm able to appreciate how the orange plastic gates look nice in the wintry park. I think the gates are beautiful in the park, and I'll be glad when they are gone. I don't find these two ideas incongruous.

9 Comments:

  • mid-February is pair bonding and copulating season for the redtail hawks in the park.

    By Blogger isabel, at 8:32 PM  

  • To the best of my knowledge, the only redtail hawks around Central Park live high atop a building outside of the park, and would likely be wholly unaffected by what's going on on the paved walkways below them.

    Have you actually been to Central Park, or are you just telling us sight unseen that we shouldn't like this project? My concern about the sort of criticism I've read here is that rather than simply saying, "I don't like The Gates" (which would be a perfectly valid response--one of the things I've enjoyed about the project is walking among the thousands of people and hearing the full range of their reactions), you seem to be saying, "I think this project is bad, so no one can like it." The former is perfectly valid, but the latter is very rarely valid.

    By Anonymous Morgan, at 8:56 PM  

  • Anyone who bothers to check will see that PM and Lola are fucking up a storm since Sunday. They don't give the Gates a second look.

    By Blogger jo, at 9:57 PM  

  • You gonna come dance with us in the park tomorrow, Eric?

    By Blogger jo, at 9:59 PM  

  • The redtail hawks do not "live high atop a building outside the park". They brood and raise their young in a nest high atop a building outside the park. They actually live and hunt inside the park year round. That is one pair.

    Evidently there is a second pair within the park and a third nearby, all of whom hunt within the park.

    Yes, Jo, thanks for your input.I did know the Palemale pair s been copulating, as I check everyday with at the Marie Winn site and also at Lincoln's. One of my concerns is that following their recent debacle with the loss of their nest, another intrusion in their territory might affect the smooth transition back to their new nest-building activities as well as copulation.

    Morgan, I never said "I think this project is bad, so no one can like it". That is entirely your own interpretation. I voiced some strong objections to the installation and some opinions about the "artist", you rebutted, and I answered. What do you want me to do? Just give in and agree with you? I don't.

    And by the way, Morgan,I was in the park the day the installation went up. I was the one in the wheelchair(black with silver wheels) with the blond hair and the black leather jacket. Did you see me?

    And yes, you're right, C and J-C do spend the money on the next phase of the same project...shame on me. A terrible blunder.

    I didn't know that differing viewpoints to those of Eric(and, evidently, of Morgan) were so unacceptable. Why blog if you don't expect to receive some differing opinions from your readers once in awhile.

    You really seem to be taking a little disagreement awfully personally. You have your opinion (and your asshole) and I have mine.

    Finito

    By Blogger isabel, at 1:13 AM  

  • This is pretty cool:

    http://www.spaceimaging.com/gallery/spacepics/central_park_12Feb05.jpg

    Kinda Sim City-ish.

    By Blogger Ben, at 3:35 AM  

  • I've been trying to post this comment for a couple of days, but Blogger hasn't been cooperating.

    I'm sorry if you feel that your expression of your viewpoint is being treated as unacceptable. That was never my intention (I can't speak for Eric). I have been nothing but polite, and I'm always interested in hearing other opinions (again, I can't speak for Eric). In your first post on this matter, you said that "Christo is bullshit," which is an opinion about The Gates (well, sort of) that was never questioned or disputed. But you finished that post by saying, "Wake up people. Get real." That's not an expression of opinion, it's an imperative statement telling someone (given the context, I'm assuming me and Eric) what to think or how to react. That's where you started.

    Very little of what you've posted has been opinion, and much of it has been claims of fact: that Christo and Jeanne-Claude are doing this for the money (a claim you've since recognized was incorrect); that the project is nothing more than an exercise in egocentrism (to which I would respond that all art is, if we're really honest); that other projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been harmful and/or dangerous (which doesn't seem relevant to this particular project); and that this project is harmful to the ecosystem of Central Park (a claim about which I remain skeptical and for which you've given little real evidence). These are claims of fact that could be verified or disproved.

    Again, if you had made a simple statement of fact ("I don't like the way The Gates look" or "I don't like the way they make me feel"), I would have accepted that. But you're making unsupported or irrelevant claims of fact (given what I've seen so far) which have the effect not of elaborating your opinion, but of condemning the project. Your judgment sounds more moral than aesthetic and more factual than critical. Taking that approach, you can't be surprised when those questionable facts are challenged. Where is this money that they're taking from this project? What exactly is the environmental damage that it's doing? Or would you rather that we didn't take what you're saying seriously enough to try to understand it?

    I don't remember seeing you there Saturday (I even went back and looked through my pictures from that day), but I saw an awful lot of people that day. What part of the park were you in? We were mostly uptown, but we got as far down as Belvedere Castle.

    By Anonymous Morgan, at 9:39 PM  

  • really, Morgan, don't you have a life? I'm beginning to think you're forming an attachment.

    By Blogger isabel, at 8:26 PM  

  • "I think the gates are beautiful in the park, and I'll be glad when they are gone. I don't find these two ideas incongruous."

    I feel the same way. I think Christo's installations tend to challenge people's ability to handle change, even temporary change. Many people have difficulty dealing with even temporary changes in routine. I tend to view the value of Christo's installations largely through that prism.

    By Blogger Mr. Snitch, at 8:49 PM  

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