Central Park becomes one giant saffron celebration as Christo's Gates unfurl

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The Independent US

A former governor of Texas, recognisable from her bouffant white hair, was standing at the core of a crowd of hundreds at the 72nd Street entrance on the east side of Central Park before breakfast yesterday. The politician was not the attraction, however. Everyone was there for the art.

A former governor of Texas, recognisable from her bouffant white hair, was standing at the core of a crowd of hundreds at the 72nd Street entrance on the east side of Central Park before breakfast yesterday. The politician was not the attraction, however. Everyone was there for the art.

At 8.30am sharp, a walkie-talkie crackled. "Five Four Three Two One, let's go, boys and girls!" With that Governor Anne Richards grasped an aluminium pole and passed its hook through a loop dangling from the top of what looked like a large orange hurdle, rising 16ft above her. She yanked and from the top bar a pleated curtain of saffron cloth unfurled and trembled in the breeze.

And at that moment, the world-renowned installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude,witnessed the bloom- ing at last of a project they first dreamed of 26 years ago. From yesterday, and for 16 days only, all of Central Park has been reconceived as a stage for not just one of these metal structures, called gates, but 7,500 of them, placed along 23 miles of its roads and pathways.

"The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005" is an exuberant exercise in remaking the landscape of the park in an otherwise barren season. Like a mythical serpent, the gates wend their way across every hillock and dell, compelling visitors to walk through and beneath them.

For Christo and Jeanne-Claude it has been a labour of love and financial commitment. The husband-and-wife team spent more than £10m of their own money on this, their 19th in a series of always controversial outdoor installations that have included wrapping the Reichstag in a silver shroud in 1995 and similarly cladding all of the Pont Neuf in Paris 20 years ago.

The "Gates" was the hardest to pull off, thanks to years of resistance from New York City. Its current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was the first to welcome their plans. He hopes it will draw as many as 90,000 additional tourists. "Welcome to New York, and let your mind expand," he said.

Everyone in the park yesterday seemed ready to do just that. "This is a pretty jaded neighbourhood," said Mark Abrams, 46, an insurance agent who lives nearby. "Your Queen could pass down Fifth Avenue here and we wouldn't blink. But for this, we are all like children at a circus. There are no political implications to this. We're just here for the art, and it's exciting."

And Lauren Anderson, 28, out walking her dog, was celebrating the common spirit the installation will create. "The whole city will rally around this, and the park will do what it was meant to do - bring people together, regardless of background, race or wealth."

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