Some thoughts and questions inspired by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "The Gates." I mostly favor the work; naturally it's not the last word in art. I don't think there is any aspect of the work more beautiful than the way in which its transmission was composed. In part, this is an open letter to those who criticized "The Gates" on the grounds that the color of the gates might have been more effective elsewise, their shape might have been more compelling elsewise, the fabric was nothing to write home about, what they did with line was nothing to write home about, they would have been nothing without Central Park, they were kitschy, they were fluff, they were a sham and a ruse, they were about the self-aggrandizement of the artists, they served too well the interests of vendors in Central Park, they served the interests of [Republican] Mayor Bloomberg well enough to annihilate the populist or neo-Marxist stance of the work, they fold into late capitalism in a way not significantly different from Thomas Kincaid's paintings, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were Pollyannaish or manipulative or elusive in explaining the work.
[Preliminaries.] If you an art critic then "The Gates" is not addressed, is not signed, sealed, delivered to you. Can you imagine a work of art that is not addressed to you? Seriously: can you?
No doubt Christo and Jeanne-Claude are attached to the material, to the physical body of "The Gates." Yet this is a work where 'the art' is super consciously designed to be located not in objects, but rather in the experience of objects by humans. Or better, in the experience of a total environment activated by the objects. [By the way, that any critic would critique the work without going there is arrogant and awfully dumb.] Some have suggested that, because 'the art' was pretty center-less, enjoyment of the work might correspond to enjoyment of self more closely than in other art situations -- in which there may be more distraction, more markers of refinement, more opportunity to tell oneself how erudite one is, &c. Or I am suggesting that now.
If true, isn't it a lot that children especially enjoyed "The Gates"?
I found that "The Gates" aestheticized and 'made [a little extra] special': walking, people watching, looking up, the wind, smiling. That's a lot. Isn't that a lot? That's a lot.
Joy sustains humans. It is good when joy is distributed without discrimination, not as a function of humans' sociodemographic characteristics, not as a function of our educational or economic status.
It is emphatically and outrageously an act of political 'speech' to design something that distributes joy without discrimination, not as a function of humans' sociodemographic characteristics, not as a function of our educational or economic status.
Some things critique; and some things more critique as they do. "The Gates" more critiques as it does [and is].
If the language [of words] Christo and Jeanne-Claude provided along with "The Gates," repeated continuously by the 'gatekeepers' cruising the park -- namely that the work "doesn't mean anything," and is "free for everyone to enjoy" -- were any more complicated, it would dilute the political [social, spiritual], um, MEANING that flows out from the work. [And if it were uppity or whiney or in any way 'difficult', then critics could really dig into them for French-ness, &c.]
For let's say you want to propose a way of being that is very different from whatever late capitalism selects for. Let's say you would propose the idea that humanity could use its energy and resources toward creative expressions of its most compassionate, generous self. And even that walking among one's fellows is precious and should be considered as such. And even that wonder is reasonable. And even that joy is. [And that these things require no consumption.]
Just model it, then -- with a minimum of distraction. Don't talk about it. Talk is cheap. [This is why Zen masters hit people over the head with sticks: efficacy.]
Nothing could be easier than to provide evidence that everything -- and especially everything's mere representation in the media! -- decays and is assumed into the body of late capitalism. How profoundly unsurprising. And funny grounds for a critique rendered from the same moving train. Woe the reflexive cynicism under which many of "The Gates'" critics swiftly linked it to market and commodity and spectacle! Your reading could have more to do with your own [socialized] interpretive imperatives than the input. That is: check your own grid, Jethro.
Of course we are here, now, in the society of the spectacle; but I reckon Christo and Jeanne-Claude did everything possible to transcend-not-refuse it, to slip out of the dialectics of it.
Does the fact of Dada ninety-plus years ago diminish "The Gates'" import? What if you've never heard of Dada? Happenings? The Situationists? [Again, this work is for whom?]
I would argue that the [physical] material of "The Gates" and its transmission are indivisible. I want to suggest consideration of some of the domains of "The Gates'" transmission: its space, sponsorship, performance agencies, performance protocols, the theaters of its pre- and post-performance, and the material technologies used to present it. I presume these domains constitute, separately and as a network, a symbolic language capable of projecting meaning to humans who experience the work. [I also presume 'meaning' is constituted variously per human; not to mention the fact that temporal dynamics affect humans intra-humanly per blood sugar, just kissed my baby, &c. I know I'm recommending a pretty imprecise science. At the same time, if we can agree that sunshine is yummy maybe we can continue.] Except for the last ['material technologies'], I'll leave it to you to determine what 'meaning[s]' might be projected.
Space: A free and public park
[Pause. If you like, take a moment and compare these domains to those of another art event you experienced recently. More or less non-discriminatory second-order semiotics? More or less reinforcement of hegemonic modes and thought-forms?]
Material technologies: Oh, you know...
If the visual language of the gates [qua the gates] were more stylized, refined, exotic, or even concise, how would that effect the whole 'interpenetration of art and life' thing? That is [art critics], do you imagine there is a threshold beyond which aestheticizing the gates further would diminish their, let's say, friendliness? Did Christo and Jeanne-Claude radically miscalculate that threshold? If you wanted to propose an alternative to conventional relationships between the [joyful, liberating, Human] aesthetic experience of art and 'artifact', would you make the material mechanisms of that proposition wicked fine and exquisite? Would you load them up with anything that had the slightest chance of referring to elite art, the art of high culture -- given what these mean at this moment?
If you said "yes," you may be a suckier artist than Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The gates [sic] are paint -- they are not the painting. If you like, you can complain that paint smells, is flammable and gets all over stuff; but maybe art criticism is not for you.
I wonder if it is a flaw that "The Gates" is so massive in scope, so involved with respect to human and material resources, that some humans might not imagine they, anyone, everyone can propose new systems, too. I hope not.
Anyway, I remember "The Gates" like a kiss. Can we agree that some kisses do not decay, and are not assumed into the body of late capitalism? Can we agree to dedicate our lives to a logic superior to the logic of late capitalism? Can we not only talk and write and make art about it, but do the dishes, too? I believe God wants us to do the dishes, just shut the ____ up and do the dishes.