CHRISTOMANIA HITS NEW YORK
With less than three weeks to go before the scheduled unfurling of The Gates, Central Park, New York on Feb. 12, 2005, Christo & Jeanne-Claude are busier than ever. The so-called "Blizzard of 2005" has deposited a foot and a half of snow in Central Park, slowing the installation of 7,500 steel gates hung with orange cloth panels along 26 miles of park pathway, but never fear -- according to www.christojeanneclaude.net, the schedule has plenty of flexibility for just such an event. "Christo and Jeanne-Claude have no wish to punish their workers with inclement weather," say the artists. As for now, Day-Glo orange markers at the heavy steel bases for the gates, which have already been placed along the paths, make a pretty pattern against the snow.
Christo & Jeanne-Claude valiantly guard against any commercial appropriation of their efforts, a tall order in today's economy. Last week, for instance, the pair appeared at a press conference at the Hermes store at 691 Madison Avenue -- never mind that orange is the signature color of the fashion house -- where clips from the current documentary film on the Central Park project by Albert Maysles are being screened, along with parts of the previousfive documentary films by Albert and David Maysles on Valley Curtain (1970-72), Running Fence (1972-76), Surrounded Islands (1980-83), The Umbrellas (1984-91) and other projects. Collectors can obtain a recently produced package of three DVDs by the Maysles Brothers with an accompanying booklet for about $60.
Hermes is producing a celebratory Gates scarf in shades of orange, however, currently priced at $295 (rising to $315 after Feb. 1, 2005). Proceeds go to Nurture New York's Nature, Inc., a little-known environmental advocacy group founded in 2003 by a labor negotiator Theodore W. Kheel. Kheel's group also receives revenues from an extensive series of signed posters of The Gates, Central Park, New York, with prices typically starting at $280 for a smallish work in color. For more info, see www.40yearsofpublicart.org
New York magazine is in on the act, too, in a small way. The Jan. 24-31, 2005, issue of the glossy weekly includes a long article on the project plus a "limited-edition artwork inside" -- a page-sized illustration of one of Christo's collages -- that the artists have promised to sign in the park on Feb. 15.
The Gates installation schedule calls for 600 workers (in teams of eight) to all meet on Feb. 7 for the first time at their official Gates headquarters in Central Park's boathouse to receive their custom jumpsuits, and to sit down for the first of a series of hot meals they will eat there every day until the project is complete. The Gates comes down Feb. 28, and its materials are to be industrially recycled (individual gates will not be sold).
In a reminder that the Gates is occurring in the town where the Brooklyn Bridge was once offered for sale, a large-type notice on Christo & Jeanne-Claude's website reminds visitors that no tickets are needed to view the work. "If anyone tries to sell you a ticket, do not buy it," says the notice.
Why orange (or saffron-colored, as most of the press materials put it)? Jeanne-Claude uses the term "cocoon" for the furled cloth panels, prior to their opening on Feb. 12, and your neighborhood lepidopterist can tell you that the Monarch butterfly is now wintering in the Sierra Madres, so the inspiration seems clear enough.
Meanwhile, the brutish editorial page of the New York Post greeted the project with derision, claiming that the $20 million artwork is a waste of money, even though it is being underwritten entirely by the artists through sales of Christo's drawings and collages. For the spitemeisters of the right wing, contemporary art is a big fraud, and the Christos are its newest exemplars. Not even the artists' $3-million donation to the Central Park Conservancy could assuage the Post's distemper. Could it be that country-club conservatives have no use for public parks?
YOKO ONO'S NEW MORSE CODE
Septugenarian art guru Yoko Ono has designed her own Morse code to spell out "I Love You." The new Onochord, as it is dubbed, was unveiled at a performance and lecture at the Museum of Modern Art on Jan. 14, 2005, when audience members were given a small white flashlight on a key chain with "Onochord" printed on it. The signal for the Onochord is one quick flash followed by two quick flashes followed by three more flashes. For what it's worth, the sequence spells out the letters "EIS" in ordinary Morse Code.
During the event, Yoko discussed her long involvement with film as an art form. "My mother would film everything," she said, showing a home movie of her family visiting San Francisco during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. She showed a mini-retrospective of her films via brief clips, including her most recent film, It's time for action, a digital patchwork of colors that includes old footage of her and John Lennon during a 1971 political demonstration in London. During Walking on Thin Ice (1981), the film she made after Lennon's death, she danced at the side of the stage, while during It's time for action she stood on stage with a sack over her head and her hands raised.
At the end of the event, the lights were turned down and the audience was instructed to begin the Onochord. The room flickered with enchantingly inconsistent flashes, like a field of lightning bugs.
-- Nicole Davis
ANDY WARHOL'S GIRLFRIEND REVEALS ALL Andy Warhol seems to be everywhere today, even if it's only for 15 minutes. His latest appearance is in the title of the new novel, If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend (Berkley, $14) by Alison Pace, an art historian and former Sotheby's staffer. A comic "chick-lit" love story set in the contemporary art world, the book doesn't actually re-imagine Warhol as a straight lothario (though it does begin its 35 chapters with a quote from the Pope of Pop) Rather, the tale involves a hapless young gallery gal who is assigned to assist an art star -- or is that art fraud? -- during an international tour, and the fun continues from there. Readings by the author are scheduled for New York and Boston; for details, see www.alisonpace.comSAATCHI TURNS TO PAINTING
Sharks in formaldehyde and unmade beds littered with condoms are out for millionaire London art gallery owner Charles Saatchi. Instead, the fabled promoter of Young British Art is embracing the age-old art of painting, launching the first part of his three-part exhibition of new art, "The Triumph of Painting," Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 2005. The trio of shows begins with better-known names and generally gets newer as it goes along. Part I includes works by Marlene Dumas, Peter Doig, Jorg Immendorff, Martin Kippenberger, Hermann Nitsch and Luc Tuymans. Now the run-up in auction prices becomes clearer -- the question is, did Saatchi's interest precede or follow the market?
Part II, which opens June 8, 2005, includes Franz Ackermann, Kai Althoff, Cecily Brown, Dexter Dalwood, Jonathan Meese, Muntean & Rosenblum, Albert Oehlen, Tal R, Michael Raedecker, Daniel Richter, Wilhelm Sasnal, Thomas Scheibitz and Dana Schutz.
Part III, opening Oct. 5, 2005, includes Michael Ashcroft, Hernan Bas, Simon Bedwell, Tilo Baumgartel, Mauro Bonacina, Enrico David, Dee Ferris, Barnaby Furnas, Andrew Guenther, Eberhard Havekost, Sophie von Hellermann, Chantal Joffe, John Krner, Thoralf Knobloch, Stefan Kurten, Tim Lokiec, Alisa Margolis, Lucy McKenzie, Jin Meyerson, Ian Monroe, Liz Neal, Mario Rossi, Christoph Ruckhaberle, Mike Silva, Sarah Pickstone, Maaike Schoorel, Lucy Skaer, Tim Stoner, Hiroshi Sugito, Ena Swansea, Evren Tekinoktay, David Thorpe, Christian Ward, Willem Weismann, Johannes Wohnsiefer and Toby Ziegler.
ARTISTS WANTED BY MTA
Artists, do you hanker to design public art works for the New York subways? Well, then, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants you. The MTA is seeking submissions for designs for stained glass artworks -- trained craftspeople are doing the fabricating, so you don't have to be a glass expert -- for four stations on the Canarsie (BMT) "L" line in Brooklyn. Average budget is $90,000, including a 20 percent artist's fee. For more details, inquire to Lydia Bradshaw of Arts for Transit at email@example.comMERCEDES RUHL STARS AS PEGGY GUGGENHEIM
Beloved character actress Mercedes Ruehl stars as Peggy Guggenheim in Lanie Robertson's new solo Off-Broadway show Woman before a Glass, with previews beginning Feb. 17, 2005,at the Promenade Theatre at Broadway and 76th Street. Set at her villa in Venice in the mid-1960s (now a branch of the Guggenheim Museum), the play reportedly chronicles her adventures in assembling her collection.
TAKAHASHI TO HAND PAPERMAKING
Mina Takahashi, executive director of Dieu Donn Papermill in SoHo for 15 years, has been appointed editor of Hand Papermaking, a nonprofit biannual magazine. The first issue, due in July, features articles on work by Chuck Close, Amanda Guest, Winifred Lutz, Dario Robleto and others. For details, see www.handpapermaking.org