February 28, 2005 12:00 PM

What becomes a legend most? When it comes to dressing up Central Park, married artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude are mad about saffron. This month the 147-year-old green space plays host to The Gates, Central Park, New York 1979-2005, a massive installation featuring 7,500 16-ft. vinyl frames hung with orange fabric along 23 miles of footpaths. What does all that drapery mean? “Walk under the gates and hear them and feel them,” says Jeanne-Claude, 69, whose previous feats with Christo, also 69, include surrounding 11 islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay with pink fabric and placing 3,100 umbrellas in California and Japan. “Each experience is equally valid.” The Manhattan-based duo dreamed up the idea 26 years ago, then spent decades navigating municipal red tape. After finally getting an okay from city hall, the couple—who never use public funds and finance projects by selling Christo’s artwork—spent $21 million to realize their vision, with help from 1,100 workers. Some have called The Gates a publicity stunt, but Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe admires its creators’ New York chutzpah. “They are ambitious, energetic and eccentric,” he says. “They fit right in.”

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