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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

May 2005 Issue

Flags over the Greensward
In New York City, an ephemeral work of public art meets one that has stood the test of time.

By Kenneth Helphand, FASLA

Flags over the Greensward
Tom Lamb

Millions of people visited Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gates project during the last two weeks of February 2005. Like Woodstock, this cultural event was not to be missed. The Gates was the catalyst for a glorious celebration of New York City and of Central Park.

Christo initiated this project 25 years ago, submitting an exhaustive report (part of the political process that is an essential aspect of Christo's art) to New York City's Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, who rejected the proposal in 1981. The Central Park Conservancy, the group that has been responsible for fund-raising and extraordinarily successful park-restoration efforts, opposed The Gates project at the time, but this winter they were offering park and Gates tours.

The idea was simple: to erect thousands of gates, each supporting an orange banner, along miles of paths in America's most famous urban landscape, designed by her premier landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, and his colleague, Calvert Vaux. Christo's project is inseparable from, and should be discussed in terms of its relationship to, Olmsted's park. How did these two works of art—one enduring and evolving, the other temporary—interact?

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