Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's saffron, stupid

With propitious weather and finding some time between meetings in NYC yesterday, I ambled toward Central Park to drink in the spectacle of The Gates. Things looked decidedly interesting when I neared 58th street and saw that the coal-black statue of Jose Marti atop his rearing steed seeming to float on a sea of saffron (it looked orange to me) that swept into the park. In fact, I was so taken I stopped for a moment to admire what I was seeing, something I never do on a busy NYC street. Unfortunately, as I drew closer, things went downhill and all that stayed propitious was the weather.

I really wanted to like the installation on two counts: I admired Jeanne-Claude and Christo's 'Wrapped Reichstag' and, a daft reason I know, for the fact my birthday, like theirs, falls on June 13th too. True, the brazen saffron color contrasted beautifully with the gray trunks and reaching, bare limbs of the trees, but the overall effect of the winding gates seemed bizarre, vulgar even. Anxious not to judge quickly, I decided to walk inside the installation and set off on a stroll of the pond's periphery amid the clicks of tourist cameras and muted conversations. I stopped for a moment and gazed out at the ice-covered pond, out to where The Gates crested a hump-backed bridge and continued on into the mid-distance. I remained unmoved. I continued on, this time peering up at the limp curtain of woven, nylon fabric (or some such stuff) as I passed under each saffron transom. Still, I remained unmoved. Of more interest was a plump squirrel nibbling on a nut nearby one gate. More affecting were the sights of rising sap on shrubs near the pond bank and the green-goldish tinge on a few trees as they unfurled their leaves. Had the saffron energy of The Gates fooled the trees to bud prematurely, I wondered.

Of course, as are always present at modern art installations, a posse of self-appointed critics were there to justify Jeanne-Claude and Christo's latest offering. As I passed one clutch, a portly woman in sensible shoes was berating another--who'd obviously had the temerity to question the thing-- by saying it was "corpulently alive" (I'm not kidding) and she could discern bad and good installations and this was one of the most "meaningful ones" she'd ever been inside.

I saw a Jeanne-Claude and Christo interview on the telly recently and she said they did not care what other people thought of their work. What mattered was that they, the artists, liked it. I suppose that's a variation of 'The art stands for itself' argument. I'm glad they feel that way. As I left the park, on a whim, I returned to Jose Marti atop his coal-black, imposing horse. The nearby tree was not in bud, but I was moved. This was art, art I could truly appreciate. I saw art in Jose Marti's face alive with expression and in the horse's sinews, muscles and curve of its back. Don't get me wrong. I love modern art, just not all of it.

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