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'The Gates' captures a fleeting, fluttering event

January 17, 2008|Shana Ting Lipton

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude work on a grand scale in every sense. Their 2005 piece, "The Gates," took 26 years to actualize, consisted of 7,503 saffron-yellow fabric panels attached to 5,000 tons of (ultimately recycled) steel "gates" installed throughout New York's Central Park, and cost approximately $21 million of the husband-and-wife duo's own money (furnished from the sales of drawings, models and earlier work). After all that, the installation lasted only 16 days.

The effort is chronicled in the 98-minute documentary "The Gates," which makes its L.A. premiere tonight at LACMA. Its TV debut is Feb. 26 on HBO.

The first quarter of the film takes place between 1979 and 1981, when Christo and Jeanne-Claude approached city officials for a permit to create the site-specific work. They were met with a curious lack of enthusiasm; bureaucrats and the public were either uninclined to share their park with crowds, or appalled by the exorbitant cost. "If we had bought a yacht or nice diamonds for Jeanne-Claude, nobody would have had any objections," notes Jeanne-Claude. Over two decades later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fan of their work, gave clearance in a New York minute.

The documentary depicts the construction of "The Gates" and its unveiling, then goes on to poetically evoke a sense of an experiential moment in time that will never again be. Quiet footage of the snow-covered park (the couple chose winter, when the trees would be bare) is punctuated by the panels flapping in the wind. Other shots show people giving in to the art, basking in the moment. "In that present, experiencing the work, you already feel the absence," explains Jeanne-Claude.

Getting busy and skeptical New Yorkers to take time out for, quite literally, a walk through the park, turns out to have been a Herculean effort -- one especially suited to grand-scale creators with patience and a mastery of time and place. "We love the words 'once upon a time,' " says Christo. "It's about our fragility as humans: We will be gone."

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'THE GATES'

WHERE: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: 6 tonight

PRICE: Free

INFO: Public must RSVP to (888) 745-7425; lacma.org

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theguide@latimes.com

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