Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Antonio Ferrera, Matthew Prinzing, 2007, 87 min
Albert Maysles and his brother David began filming for
THE GATES in 1979, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude began
actively pushing their project forward. Maysles’ team
attended community board hearings, capturing the
emerging controversy as the Park’s poorer communities
to the North voted in favor of the project, while the Park’s
richest neighborhoods to the East and South opposed it.
Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis denied the artists
permission, citing the risk of setting a dangerous public
use precedent, despite the city’s original concept of a
park for the people. Henry Stern, former Parks
Commissioner added: "It is a massive intrusion on
nature. It’s an imposition of one man’s ego on the
nation’s greatest urban park."
“The work is not only the fabric, the steel poles, and the
fence. The art project is right now, here. Everybody here
is part of the work. If they want it, if they don’t want it,
either way they are a part of the work… I believe very
strongly that twentieth century art is not a single,
individualistic experience.” -Christo, at Running Fence
In the wake of staunch governmental opposition, Christo
and Jeanne-Claude were devastated – but refused to give
up. “The fact that people are passionately involved shows
how important this work of art is for New York,” Christo
told reporters. “Opposition simply enriches the process.
The park is not going anywhere. I’m healthy, and I intend
to do this project.”
Fast-forward 20 years. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have
completed many projects throughout the world, yet remain
fixated on this one grand project for New York. In the
intervening time, much has changed in New York, including
the devastation of September 11, 2001. On January 22,
2003, Michael R. Bloomberg, the new Mayor of New York City,
announced that he had given permission to Christo and
Jeanne-Claude to realize their temporary work of art:
The Gates. Former Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis also
publicly expressed his approval of the project.
Filming went on in 2002 and 2003, as Christo and
Jeanne-Claude continued renegotiating with officials,
planning the manufacture of materials, and most impressively,
accomplishing the near-impossible task of gathering in only two years the 20 million dollars required to complete the project. As with all of their previous projects, The Gates were funded entirely by the artists through the sale of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models, earlier works of the fifties and sixties, and lithographs on other subjects. The artists do not accept sponsors.
All of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's large-scale projects are controversial. Their proposals are often met with confusion and hesitation from local residents, and the process of securing approval from each location’s respective government has always been a long and arduous one. Christo and Jeanne- Claude also consider the process of the project’s realization itself a component of the artwork. The footage shot over twenty years ago will prove invaluable in portraying the artists’ struggle and passion for their work, as well as delineating the process of realizing that work: the project’s conception, planning, and development, trudging through the necessary bureaucracy to acquire permission, and finally the construction and realization of The Gates. It is rare that artists have the fortitude to fight through a process that takes over twenty years, and accomplishes their vision on such a grand scale. And it is even rarer to have documented the process over the course of the entire project - from conception of a dream to the fulfillment of its reality.
The Gates took place February of 2005.