NEW YORK – The bland warehouse in Maspeth, Queens, reveals almost nothing about the saffron-colored wonders within. But it is here, behind an unmarked door in a gritty industrial park, where workers have been toiling for more than a year to bring life to “The Gates: Project for Central Park.”

The massive work of art is the latest undertaking of husband-and-wife artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who are aiming to line 23 miles of Central Park’s paths for two weeks in February with thousands of 16-foot-tall gates, each hung with a flowing, saffron-colored panel of fabric.

It is the latest in a unique series of huge artworks by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who in 1991 filled valleys in Japan and California with 3,100 umbrellas, and later wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag in silvery fabric.

The Central Park project, which will be free to all and paid for entirely by the artists, will create “a golden ceiling” over the park and evoke Frederick Law Olmsted’s democratic vision of a central park, the artists say.

“Each one of our projects is a child of ours,” said Jeanne-Claude, 69, in a rare interview last week. “And now we are expecting a new baby.”

But for now – with 54 days before the gates are due to appear – the project is a logistical challenge akin to moving a small army.

Just ask Vince Davenport, the project’s 68-year-old chief engineer, who during a first-ever, behind-the-scenes peek at the project’s Queens assembly plant last week conceded that he sleeps little these days.

On the walls, huge maps detailed the precise width and location of each gate. Gaps noted the location of every low-hanging branch, which will remain untouched.

“We all know it can be done,” said Davenport, as he stood before a towering stack of completed gates. “But can you see the logistical problem of this thing?”

Consider the materials alone. To make the 7,503 gates, the artists had to buy 60 miles of vinyl tubing and 1,067,330 square feet of fabric. More than 10 million pounds of steel for the gates’ bases – equal to two-thirds the Eiffel Tower – already are being stacked along the park’s 102nd Street transverse.

But under an agreement with the city, the artists and their 543 paid staffers will have only five days to set each gate in its proper place starting Feb. 7 – weather permitting. The fabric then will be unfurled on Feb. 12.

“I don’t even want to use the word, but what if it snows on me?” said Davenport, who bought 150 snow shovels last week, just in case.


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