?There is no why, and it doesn?t mean anything. It is only a work of art.? So spoke Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists who created ?The Gates.? For those who haven?t been around New York in the last couple of weeks, ?The Gates? is a ?public art event? ? a series of 7,500 saffron fabric panels arranged along 23 miles of footpaths in Central Park, at the cost of $21 million to the creators.
The New York Times went gaga over the exhibit. ?Even at first blush, it was clear that ?The Gates? is a work of pure joy, a vast populist spectacle of good will and simple eloquence, the first great public art event of the 21st century,? wrote Michael Kimmelman. ?The gates, themselves a cure for psychic hardship, remind us how much those paths vary, in width, and height, like the crowds of people who walk along them. More than that, being so sensitive to nature, they make us more sensitive to its effects.?
I?m not pro-Gates or anti-Gates. I don?t really care, one way or the other, since the artists are footing the bill, as opposed to taxpayers. What does concern me is the ridiculous outpouring of praise on this ambitious but somewhat shabby enterprise. The fact is, ?The Gates? doesn?t mean anything. And the fact that it doesn?t mean anything should mean something to us ? it should mean that this work doesn?t deserve to be labeled ?great art.?
Over the last century, we?ve seen a breakdown in traditional systems of art, literature, and music. In art, we?ve seen the death of the artist striving to put his message before the world, and the rise of the artist creating something to be seen solely in the eye of the beholder. The thrill of art used to be the thrill of discovery ? of realizing, at last, what the artist was saying, and identifying with his message. Now, art promotes narcissism ? what do you see in this Coke can? Remove the artist from the art, and you have nothing but an endless series of Rorschach tests hung in museums and sold for thousands of dollars.
With the rise of rampant subjectivism in art, it is harder and harder for art to evoke deep emotion in its audience: the audience has to do all the work. As viewer Anna Brook, 22, told me, ?Great art needs to evoke a feeling, to connect to the inner being; this was interesting from an engineering stand point but nothing else. There was no connection to the human condition, as there is in the art of a Michelangelo or Renoir. It was well worth seeing, but it wasn?t great art.?