Vinyl Material Key To Opening Christo's Gates

For 16 days a river of saffron meandered through New York City, breathing new life into the still grayness of a wintry Central Park. Most of the material used in these 16-foot high frames spaced out every 12 feet along pedestrian walk ways now sits in a Nazareth, Pa. “remanufacturing” plant awaiting its reincarnation.

“The Gates, Central Park, New York” was one of the most complex projects by renowned artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, and one requirement they had – as in all their projects – was that all the material be recycled after the exhibit. The ability to recycle PVC was one of the convincing factors in the artists’ choice to use it in the more than 7,500 gates that stretched for 23 miles. 

“The Gates, Central Park, New York” was one of the most complex projects by renowned artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, and one requirement they had – as in all their projects – was that all the material be recycled after the exhibit. The ability to recycle PVC was one of the convincing factors in the artists’ choice to use it in the more than 7,500 gates that stretched for 23 miles.

Since the exhibit’s closure on Feb. 28 and its ensuing dismantling, truckloads of the PVC and nylon have been rolled to Nicos Polymers & Grinding, Inc., where powerful machines are constantly fed long sections of rigid PVC and quickly pour out a coarse grind. It’s a noisy but clean process that is the first step in recycling the nearly 750,000 pounds of PVC used in “The Gates.”

For Nicos, it’s a project where the company is more than equal to the task. Twenty-seven years ago the company founder started the business by “jumping into dumpsters” and pulling out plastic scrap. Today it has the capacity to reprocess more than 120 million pounds of material a year, and 50 percent of that is vinyl.

“We figured out how to add value to it,” said Nicos Sales Manager Barry Friedman, in talking about the company’s success.

Nicos project coordinator Bob Perrone and operations manager Dan Sheehan also learned of the value PVC brought to the entire Gates project. “Originally it was going to be all steel with holes dug into the ground, which would be extremely expensive,” said Sheehan, who met Christo when he and Perrone toured the exhibit in February. “(Christo’s Chief Engineer Vince Davenport) saw some vinyl fencing and got the idea from that. Then knowing it could be recycled is what really sold Christo on the idea.”

Davenport confirmed that being recyclable was a key element in selecting PVC material, but there were other factors too. Vinyl’s blend of strength and being lightweight meant the gates could be anchored with heavy metal bases, and not require holes drilled into the ground, which the city frowned upon. During the exhibit Davenport commented about PVC’s strength, saying, “A taxi slipped into three gates today. The PVC was not damaged. The taxi was.”

The other advantage the PVC frames had over painted metal was easy clean up if the Gates were ever defaced during the exhibit.

 “The Gates” made front-page news nationwide when they were “opened” on Feb. 12 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  They were 26 years in the making.  It took that long for the city to see its way through the logistics of hosting such a project.

The Gates stood like dominoes along the pathways the entire length of Central Park, from 59th to 110th streets.   They changed color with the day’s light, or when viewed from different angles.  The banners, seen with the sun shining through them from behind, glowed a soft gold.

Visitors flocked to the “cool,” “poetic,” “fabulous,” exhibit, many of them decked in matching colors.  The New York Times ran a half-page photo gallery titled “Saffronistas” showing spectators and even pets in orange jumpsuits, parkas, scarves, socks and wraps.