VISIT 1 - photographed in late afternoon of 2 February 2005, I'd entered Central Park at West 77th and crossed to East 72nd - designated AREA 3 which will contain 961 gates. There will be a total of 7,500 gates on 23 miles of pathways. The bases have been set out over the last couple of weeks and are now awaiting installation of the uprights and crossbars which should begin on the 4th in preparation for the unfurling on Saturday, 12 February.
VISIT 2 - several days later on 7 February, this time I entered at West 72nd and threaded my way down to Fifth Avenue at East 60th - designated AREAS 2 and 1 with 1,407 and 1,481 gates. The uprights and crossbeams are going into place. Contained within the wrappers on the crossbeams are the fabric for unfurling. In some photos, one can see the rip-cords to release the fabric.
VISIT 3 - Tuesday 8 February entered at West 100th Street and crossed down to East 85th - designated AREAS 6 and 5 with 1,196 and 707 gates.
VISIT 4 - Wednesday 9 February entered at West 100th Street and head north through the North Woods to the Harlem Meer, Fort Clinton and to the Conservatory Garden... covering the upper part of AREA 6 and the AREA 7 with 713 gates - before hopping a bus down Fifth Avenue to 60th Street for some shots in the lower park area - AREA 1.
VISIT 5 - Also on Wednesday 9 February but at night... wandering some of the paths of AREA 1 in the lower section.
VISIT 1 - Central Park on 2/2/05 still had lots of snow from a recent storm.
Uprights and crossbars awaiting installation.
The bases are made of 3" thick pieces of steel with welded legs. Each base weighs 750 lbs - and some go up to 835 lbs.
VISIT 2 - photos taken on Monday, 7 February 2005 as the gates go up . . .
A set of poles being readied for lifting by workers.
Piles and piles of poles are stacked everywhere... with 7,500 gates, that is 22,500 poles and crossbeams!
Art Project Pilgrims Prepare to Install 'The Gates'
By CAROL VOGEL Published: February 5, 2005
One by one, they emerged from the Bliss Street subway station in Sunnyside, Queens, on Thursday afternoon, nervously eyeing the idling yellow school buses that were waiting to ferry them to an assembly plant. Mutual strangers, they were a blend of New Yorkers - a retired math teacher, a medical litigator, a street artist, a fitness instructor - and out-of-towners, like an architect from Denver and a college student from Virginia.
These 100 worshipful pilgrims are among 600 or so paid volunteers who will put their lives on hold for six straight days to help install "The Gates," a giant $20 million project by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude that opens in Central Park next Saturday. The workers' task, starting Monday, is to assemble 7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels along 23 miles of the park's pedestrian walkways, from 59th Street to 110th Street, east to west.
Once the workers had assembled inside the cavernous factory, on a side street near Fresh Pond Road in Maspeth, Jeanne-Claude and Christo, in jeans and sneakers, appeared briefly to greet them and to remind them to be on their best behavior in Central Park. "You are our ambassadors," said Jeanne-Claude, whose signature flame-orange hair could almost be viewed as a live advertisement for the project.
"One question you will be asked: 'What is it for?' " she said. "It's for nothing. It's only a work of art. Nothing more." Then she and Christo were off in a twinkle, dashing to Manhattan to get back to work.
Some of the enlisted workers signed up for the project years ago by e-mail. Preference was given to New York-area residents and to people who had worked on previous projects by Christo, like wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin with a million square feet of fabric or placing 1,760 yellow umbrellas in the foothills about 60 miles north of Los Angeles.
The pay is minimum wage, but no one seemed to mind. "If you've ever done it before, you'll want to do it again," said William McMullen, the architect from Denver, who worked on the umbrellas project in 1991. "It was a blast."
As an architect, he said, he is especially intrigued by the construction of the gates. Like a giant erector set, each is composed of a pair of orange 16-foot-tall vertical vinyl poles topped by a horizontal pole rigged with a pleated orange fabric panel. (During the installation next week, the gates' fabric will remain within a tubelike cocoon.) Each pole is attached to a steel base - weighing anywhere from 615 to 837 pounds, depending on the width of the gate - that rests on the surface of the walkways. The upper corners where the poles meet are fitted with recyclable cast aluminum reinforcements.
The gates were designed so that with careful instruction and a bit of muscle, unskilled workers could put them together.
The volunteers were divided into three groups for the training session. One team watched slides of previous Christo projects while waiting to receive special ID cards.
A second group learned how to attach a leveling plate - a steel plate on which the vertical poles will be placed - securely to a steel base. At first, it seemed a little tricky: the worker starts by removing two orange safety cones fitted into either side of each base. Then the leveling plate must be attached to the base itself on a perfectly horizontal plane - not at an incline - so the vertical poles stay properly in place.
Assisting Vince Davenport, the project's chief engineer and construction director, and his wife, Jonita, the project coordinator, were 10 skilled workers who will be a part of a larger team supervising in the park. Most are experienced stagehands or producers who have worked on movie crews or have been studio managers for artists; others are professional organizers who have previously set up events like rock concerts in Central Park.
The third team was taken to a courtyard behind the plant where three sets of gates were lying on the ground, ready to be assembled. Dividing that team into groups of six, the skilled workers assigned two people to hold the bottom of each pole; two people to insert the horizontal poles into the vertical ones; and two people to align the aluminum corners that will ensure that the vertical poles stay in place when the gates are hoisted into place.
This was the first of three training days (two sessions per day) led by the skilled workers. "I'm in Central Park every day with clients," said Megan Banwart, a fitness instructor who attended the Thursday afternoon session. "So how could I not get involved in a project like this?"
None of the volunteers know exactly where they will be asked to work on Monday. On one wall of the plant is a giant map of Central Park that Mr. Davenport has divided into seven areas. Each area is divided into 21 zones, and each zone into 73 sections. "It's a logistic way of providing supervision for the entire project," Mr. Davenport explained. "There are seven area leaders, these are the most experienced people, then a zone supervisor, crew captains and team leaders."
Safety is a crucial issue for Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who have occasionally met with setbacks. Two deaths resulted from "The Umbrellas, Japan-U.S.A.," in which a forest of umbrellas were planted near Tokyo and along the hillsides of Southern California in 1991. During the dismantling of the umbrellas in Japan, a man died when the arms of the crane he was operating touched a power line. In California, high winds blew an umbrella across a road and crushed a woman against a boulder.
The Davenports have drafted a schedule to ensure that no workers will be rushing through their tasks. Mr. Davenport estimates that the 600 workers will be able to install about 22 gates a day, just enough to keep them busy and complete the job at an even pace.
The workday runs from 7:30 to 4:30, weather permitting. (The recent snowstorm cost the project $250,000, Mr. Davenport noted: he had to buy snow blowers and other equipment, and it took six days and 150 people to clear snow from the steel bases.) Toward the end of the training session, all 100 trainees were asked to gather around a sample gate for the final - and most dramatic - demonstration: the unfurling of the fabric, which will take place in the park from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. next Saturday. Raising a long pole with a hook, one of the trained workers detached a small loop at one end of the tubelike cocoon. As the tube dropped to the ground, the orange pleated fabric fell gracefully between the vinyl poles.
There was a dead silence and a few teary faces, then an enthusiastic round of applause.