Swinging on Christo's 'Gates'

When war and natural disaster saturate the news, it's easy to forget that beauty can still be found.

Artists can more readily perceive that. Certainly the renowned large-scale artists Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, do. For sixteen days in February - in the middle of gray, bare winter - the couple will display a series of saffron-colored fabric panels that will cut a bright swath through New York City's Central Park.

In falling white snow or under azure skies, pedestrians will be able to walk along 23 miles of pathways, passing through about 7,500 "gates" from which shimmering nylon flags will be hung overhead. Looking up, they'll see a billowing, orange-gold ceiling, punctuated by sky and branches. From a building or hilltop, it will look more like a river winding among bare trees.

The gates project has been kicking around for over 25 years - a gift to the artists' adopted home city, but one which met resistance along the way. In the meantime, the "Christos" surrounded tiny islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay with floating pink polypropylene; wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris; erected thousands of giant colorful umbrellas in Japan and California, and wrapped the Reichstag building in Berlin.

Bigness characterizes the couple's projects. So too, do public accessibility, and the inspired joy of encountering (perhaps unexpectedly) an artwork that doesn't try to make sense out of chaos, but just celebrates life itself.

The awe comes partly from the temporary nature of their works, which has the effect of actually highlighting the permanence of ideas. An artwork so impressive, that stays up for only a short time, inevitably leaves an indelible memory.

A visitor to Central Park this February is not likely to forget the experience, and a later visit will bring it to mind again. In this way, beauty carries on, even without the physical expression of it.

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