My (our) review of The Gates

As you all will recall, Christo’s The Gates, now up in Manhattan (which I saw and thought was a lot of fun) inspired the group of readers here to go on a rampage of pretentious art-critic-y criticism, just for fun.

So now. I have put them all together into a whole. Some of your suggestions I have plopped into the review word for word. They’re just too brilliant. Many of you just threw in a WORD or two and so honestly, I did my best to incorporate it all. Even though I’ve never heard of many of these words.

Here is our group review. I should try to get this published in a legit magazine and see if they even recognize that it is a parody.


Christo, long-crowned the enfant terrible of the art world, has, through his latest ontological oeuvre, transformed our so-called familiar urban landscape of Central Park into something self-referential, stochastic, and yet at the same time mundane. One recalls the Dadaists and the soup cans of Andy Warhol, and one reflects on the normative paradigmatic shift of our hermeneutical age. There are those who will view The Gates as a didactic polemic, little more than a bete noire, still others who will see it as replete with a fertile esthetic, and others will want to burn themselves into a fiery crisp on national television, imitating (perhaps) the Buddhist monks of yesteryear, whose saffron-colored robes The Gates echo, in all their evanescent autarky.

The question remains:

The Gates: a simple recherche into the lost carts de jeunesse, a Dumbo’s feather that lets the viewer soar back to the lost folly of youth? Or a sine qua non of postmodern folly?

The meaning of these ‘Gates’ might have been comprehensible had we discovered them rising against the warm backdrop of “avant-garde” Seattle, underwritten by Microsoft–but arising as they have, here, in the gritty cold heart of NYC, and funded by so-called ‘artists’ whose “creative” progeny are all indubitably strange, we find nonsense in the idea that meaning means anything ‘sensible’ and one rather suspects a joke being played and we, the viewers, don’t yet quite “get” it.

I would equate the experience of walking through the exhibit with passing through the birth canal and suggest that those who hate The Gates do so because they despise their own existence. Christo’s Gates are a physical representation of the artist’s inner dialectic, juxtaposing saffron spirituality and utilitarian steel in a compromised landscape, and bring up the penultimate question: Ou les neiges de temps jadis sont?

If we know anything, we know this: Art is neither object nor subject, but the phenomenological intertwining of both so that ‘appreciation’ (in all its varied and multi- meanings) is born from the simple realization of perception. This recognition allows for art that is neither here nor there, but everywhere. And nowhere.

Christo’s animism is at the heart of his challenge to the verity of truth, insofar as it rectifies the humanism of our spatial modality. ‘Gates’ purports to effect a nouveau realisme in which the actual is unrealized into a cathartic emanence of the whole.

The dialectic of Christo’s “Gates” is a reflection of the post-9/11 zeitgeist, absent the schadenfreude qua nervousness that has gripped the American populace in this world of “now-more-than-ever.” The semiotics of the saffron (en)robes serves an ontological function in re-animating and re-introducing the humanity of New New York to their perceptions of the orange joy of being – the being you felt as a child, vis a vis a pinata. The Gestalt bespeaks a Foucauldian Weltschmerz, a sumptuous feast of post-Derridian brio-cum-angst. It’s in this context that “The Gates” covers, even metastasizes, over Central Park like a vast dollop of neo-maternalistic, neo-Marxian mayonnaise.

The panels, a touchstone of familiarity to the bourgeoisie (nursing at the paps of American Idol), emanate as immense labia beckoning, even taunting the onlooker to become, to be the phallus penetrating into Mother Nature – the maternal yin imprisoned in the mechanistic yang of the city and yet floating above the concept of restraint – the “Gates” welcome yet repel; they silently ululate like a shtetl of schmatte-clad yentas and yet remain silent with the deafening-yet-voiceless torment of the ur-mensch; metaphysical yet material (or rather neo-material), smug in its tangibility yet internally, silently, futilely screaming in horror at its immateriality. The “Gates” are, in short, of a piece with and yet utterly discontiguous from the fundamental leitmotifs of our age.

As for the sexualized nature-of-being within the context of the exposure: the gates cannot be phallic; by their very nature they must be Sapphic and labile, thus rendering the observer as a sort of unintended symbol of penetration qua probing. It mitigates the very phallocentric nature of our neo-culture where every wardrobe malfunction becomes a gesture of the feminine violent against a landscape of testicular domination. The flowing robes of the gates are by necessity, feminine; they recall the flowing garments of kindergarten teachers, of wash on the line, and the color – an ochre, rather than a true red – dimly recalls menstruation. What Christo has done here is nothing short of genius; the observer-as-penis concept writ large.

As rendered in ‘Gates’, the effect is homiletic rather than narrative–especially the goose shit on the sidewalks, which provides a whimsical counterpoint as well as a sobering reminder of our paternalistic dichotomy, where all true art is of necessity samizdat, and thus destined to languish in obscurity, ignored by the nekulturny hordes of bourgeois apparatchiks.

I gladly entered the Gates, feeling in them a life-affirming force, but couldn’t help leaving with existential angst on my face, remembering Auschwitz.

In John Ashcroft’s America, we are all diaspora.

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23 Responses to My (our) review of The Gates

  1. Red – Brilliant! However did you find such a talented group of over-weaning Fauntleroys? All the best, Terry

  2. Bud says:

    Well, let me be the first to say HO.LEE.SHITE! That is one of the funniest things I have ever read in my life. An instant classic that will no doubt be one the most e-mailed pieces in history.

    I love you and everyone who provided material. I think a software developer could use your review as a template for all future art reviews.

    Big smile here and tears of delight. WELL DONE, RED ET AL.

  3. Stevie says:

    Excellent, Sheila!

  4. peteb says:

    Bravo! BRAVO!!

    *gesticulates extravangantly*

  5. mitch says:

    Homiletic, yet narrative. Delicately picaresque and yet grotesquely fecal in the manner of Pollock-cum-Sex Pistols. A decisive tour-de-force of self-contradiction qua homosexualian allegory.

    In Ashcroft’s America, it’s the feel-good hit of the summer. In Auschwitz.

    I may have to borrow it :-)

  6. peteb says:

    Oops.. I was gesticulating so extravagantly I mis-typed extravagantly

  7. David says:

    Now that’s funny!

  8. ricki says:

    and they say that the Internet is isolating and kills creativity.

    all I can say is: day-um. Red, you better watch out – someone might steal that and try to pass it off as the beginnings of a Master’s thesis in cultural studies.

  9. red says:

    ricki – I was thinking of submitting this to, like, The New Criterion or something – not saying it was a joke – and see if they would print it.

  10. David says:

    The funny thing is, I can follow some of it and it sounds brilliant and real. Then of course it disentegrates into pompous hilarity.

  11. red says:

    heh heh

    I love the bluntness of the “those who hate the Gates must despise their own existence” sentence … followed by some bullshit about the Gestalt.


  12. johnd01 says:

    …A thousand monkeys at typewriters… A thousand pompus monkeys at typewriters.

  13. dad says:

    Dearest: when you do a re-write, please add something about not having seen so much orange since a July 12th parade in Belfast. love, dad

  14. red says:



    I should list all of the orange-based historical imagery I can think of … and pepper it inappropriately through the text.

  15. mitch says:

    “The display is orange, orangian, orangistic; orange as the proto-feminine juice, symbolically peeled from beneath a metaphorically thick, acidic skin, providing nourishment and seed; orange as warning, as alert, as nuclear fireball; the fierce, affirmative orangianism of a parade in Dublin or a riot in Kiev; orangistic as the Kerouacian orangification of darkness…”

  16. Chris says:

    Absolutely brilliant, Sheila! I’m speechless with admiration!

  17. “The Gates”

    A week ago Sheila, baffled by some of the hostile reactions to Christo’s The Gates, decided to write the definitive art review of the project.

  18. Linus says:

    Awesome. Awesomely and awesomely awesome.

    We left out mentioning that nothing rhymes with Orange; oh well. Surely next time.

  19. Bernard says:

    Funny, funny–especially the gooseshit on the sidewalks.

    And actually, it almost made sense!

  20. Stevie says:

    Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker claims that, “The Gates succeeds precisely by being, on the whole, a big nothing. Comprehended at a glance, it lets us get right down to being crazy about ourselves, in a bubble of participatory narcissism that it will be pitiable to have missed.”

    I believe that’s exactly what you said, right, Sheila?

  21. Dave J says:

    I love it. Oh, and for some reason, the more I read it, the more I hear it in Eric Idle’s voice: there’s definitely Pythonesque to its absurdity.

    (Oooh, that sounded pretty pretentious itself.)

  22. Wino says:

    You’ve taken me back to college — and reminded me how full of sh#t some of my art criticism professors were.

    But the real reason I’m calling is to offer you a job as a staff writer at The Wine Spectator. We would like you to write all of our reviews of French wine.

  23. red says:


    YES to your offer! Or should I say “oui”?