New works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude usually turn into major events, with their followers, many of whom are international, showing up to marvel at the scale of the projects or participating in the crew the artists pay to help them. In the past, the pair has used synthetic fabric to wrap a coastline in Sydney, surround islands in Biscayne Bay in Miami, and wrap the Reichstag building in Berlin. They also created undulating hills of huge umbrellas in California and Japan. Interacting with the people and natural materials in the environments is a key part of their work.
Audiences have found these grand-scale installations so inspiring that some people want to participate.
"I love the idea of being a part of making a beautiful thing," says Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, who worked with other paid volunteers to erect the 7,500 gates last week. She likes the concept of people who don't know each other working together in a common purpose. "This is sort of like a [political] campaign," she said on Saturday morning after helping to unfurl some nylon fabric. "There's a beginning, and a lot of hard work with a lot of people coming together for a short period of time, and then there's the culmination."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude first envisioned "The Gates" back in 1979, not long after the pair moved to the US from Europe. Wanting to pay homage to all the walking New Yorkers do - and knowing they would never be able to get permits to do anything on the sidewalks - the duo turned to Central Park. Back then, the city rejected the project, in part because the park was in need of too much help. But eventually, as park renovations took hold and the artists changed their design (holes in the ground were no longer required for stabilizing the gates, for example), the logistical barriers became fewer.
On Saturday, people reacted to the art for the first time, as the nylon fabric with prep-school skirt pleats billowed in the chilly wind after a mass unfurling that took hours.