The Gates/R.I.P

If you live in New York City, just hearing the words, ?The Gates? is enough?you know what it means. For those of you who live at any distance from the City of Fun and Money, and who are not familiar with the world of the ?arts?, you might need a little explanation?
?The Gates? is a massive ?artistic? event that just took place over the last three weeks in Manhattan; specifically in Manhattan?s Central Park.
Briefly described, ?The Gates? is a collection of several hundred twelve-foot-high (I?m estimating) orange metal rectangular arches, like huge doorframes, from which were hung bright orange specially-made square cloths. These constructions were placed in specific locations thoughout most of the prominent pathways of the park.
?The Gates? was dreamed up and constructed by two conceptual artists, named Christo and Jeanne-Claude? To be clear? Christo and Jeanne-Claude are not conceptual themselves, they are real. (At least, I think they are real? at least two people I know said they saw them riding in a limousine in the park). It?s the art that is ?conceptual.? (To find out all about The Gates and see photos, etc., you can go to the official website: **Note: The photos you will see at the website are far more interesting, appealing and artistic than the actual Gates themselves?which is, more-or-less, why I wrote the following essay.)

(This piece was written last Wednesday, March 2nd).

?Taking a cab across the park yesterday on the 79th St., transverse road… I see that Christo’s Gates are still up… I ask the driver “Didn’t they say they would be taking those down last Monday?” And he says, naturally enough… “Well, it’s gonna take a week or more to take it all down.”

Of course it will take a week… all those bolted steel posts and platforms and flapping orange bathmats?
I guess what happened is that I was expressing my WISH that they would be gone instantly. Because, in the end, the more I saw them–as I walked near the park–or took a bus or a cab through it, the more I disliked those brainless, soulless orange excretions.

…The whole idea of what’s art… Well, it?s a fruitless conversation– (having had many of them–including one with my daughter and nephew and friends just about two weeks ago).

Anything can be art… My late and much remembered friend, Betty–a theater director and passionate writer on the subject of theater– used to say: Anything you put on a stage is theater.

Is it the same with painting, I wonder? Does anything that anyone puts on a canvas or sheet of paper and puts in frame qualify as art? I suppose it does. And the same goes for sculpture, dance, music, singing, etc. etc.

If some tone-deaf, arhythmic idiot can get his or her voice on a disk and arrange to have it accompanied by someone banging a garbage can lid with a shovel, is that music? I guess if it?s done deliberately and recorded and mastered and issued to the public, it’s music– no matter how meaningless or uninspiring.
Sometimes I check out WKCR-FM in New York, the Columbia University Radio station (and a great radio station it is, too).
They have a couple of afternoon “modern” music programs. To me, about 90 percent of it sounds like metal furniture being tossed down a long staircase…or (another popular style), fourteen painfully ill gerbils in a room full of empty soda cans; which is to say that, to me, all this “music” is completely without soul, or thought- or feeling or transcendence… BUT– it was conceived, composed, rehearsed, recorded and played on the radio– so its still music…

I think INTENTION is the key here. You must have the impulse or feeling, or the thought, then the CARRYING THROUGH of the project to its realization– on canvas or stage or disk or movie screen…
It reminds me of what the Catholic Church used to (still does?) call a sin: If there is desire and intent and sufficient reflection of the will (Catholics, feel free to correct me), you have committed a sin…
As George Carlin said–and I paraphrase: “It was sin to WANT to feel up Betty, it was a sin to THINK of a WAY to feel up Betty, and it was a sin to actually FEEL UP Betty– Three sins in one feel, man!”

INTENTION is the key.
So, again, what gives anything the right to be called art (not that it needs my imprimatur)–and this goes for any medium–is that it was INTENDED to be done; that it was a purposeful, deliberate act; or, maybe even a lunge of desperation, but at least a somewhat conscious mind had the intention of placing something on the canvas, the paper, or in between the four sides of a frame, on a stage, on a disk…

So the question, finally, is not: Is it art? The question is, obviously, is it good art? And there’s another whole question–one that probably has no real answer because of individual taste. A LOT of people like the painting of Five Dogs Playing Poker– In fact, the original was recently auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars.
My best friend Ralph, a brilliant painter, with the soul of a pure artist, loves Jean-Luc Goddard movies– which cause me to wonder who on earth gave Jean-Luc so much as a five-franc note to film one second of the nonsense he calls a film.
So, all taste…

Having said that, and without going into all the pros and cons… Herewith, my feelings about what is good art–to me…

… Some fellow human being has felt a universal feeling– something about yearning or loss or ecstasy, something about love or death, or desire or madness; Or simply, someone has perceived in a clear, simple way, the transcendent grace that lives in those quiet, empty moments when life stops for a moment to catch its breath… in a mind, in a heart… on a city stoop in the late afternoon when the traffic has ceased flowing for a moment…

And having felt these things, having perceived their existence in their manifold forms of common radiance and beauty… a person, drawing on great passion and possessed of a unique, personal, developed style, presents these feelings and perceptions to the rest of us… Presents them as a pure gift (even if, sometimes it might appear to be an assault). They present these things to the rest of us so that we may know that we are not alone in our suffering, in our mad ecstasy, in our state of tragedy or confusion or quiet love…

It can happen anywhere or anytime or in anyway, but if there is no universal feeling, if there is no passion and no intention of giving a gift to the world, if there is no pursuit of excellence in expression, then what you have is Christo’s Gates; a dry, dead, intellectualized CONCEPT that even Baron Von Frankenstein couldn’t breathe life into.

So, the Gates–soon to be the dimmest of memories–are art, no doubt. Christo and Jeanne-Claude spent over twenty years planning this project, then organizing it, then constructing it, then presenting it. And what do we, the audience, the public, have from all of this effort?

Nothing but hundreds of intrusive, repressive pieces of metal and cloth. Nothing to move us, to stir a passion or a thought or a feeling–nothing to lift us from one place in our lives and set us down, changed, in another place.

That all of this nonsense took place inside and on top of a truly great work of art–Frederick Olmstead’s Central Park–made it, to me at least, all the more irritating and sad. It was like putting a plastic party hat on some beautiful exotic bird.

Its all Dogs Playing Poker, babe, and thank God its being deconstructed, packed up and sent on its way to some silly modern museum where it can astonish mass-produced robots in the 22nd century.

– Mike Feder (New York City – March 5, 2005)

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