Pedestrians pass under "The Gates" in New York's Central Park. Beginning Saturday and running for 16 days, a panel of free-hanging, saffron-coloured fabric will be unfurled from each arch. (AP photo)

All eyes are on New York this weekend for the unveiling of artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude's latest monumental installation in Central Park.

Beginning Saturday, the couple's latest project – entitled The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005 – unfurls 37 kilometres of "saffron-coloured" fabric along a corridor of 7,500 arches snaking through the famed New York park. The installation will remain in place for a 16-day run.

"The luminous moving fabric will underline the organic design of the park, while the rectangular poles will be a reminder of the geometric grid pattern of the city blocks around the park," the artists say on their website. "The Gates will harmonize with the beauty of Central Park."

Though some of the materials were moved into the park in December, the arches and cocoons of fabric were raised over five days this week by close to 600 people who answered the artists' call for help installing the arches. Participants – mostly Christo fans, artists, architects, film workers and even former Texas governor Ann Richards – are paid $6.25 US per hour (slightly more than the minimum wage) and given one hot meal per day.

New York hit with Gates-fever

The city's Economic Development Corp. has estimated that the enormous undertaking could attract an additional 90,000 tourists to the city, as well as pull in regular New Yorkers.

As with similar works in the past, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed the installation – estimated to cost more than $20 million US – themselves. They will make no money from Gates-related goods being sold, because they have donated merchandising rights to a local charity and the Central Park Conservancy.

Vendors are selling hats, mugs, key-chains and T-shirts, and many nearby hotels are booked solid. Some are offering special deals, including binoculars in Central Park-facing rooms and saffron-spiced meals.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is taking part by opening up its summer roof garden, which overlooks the park, and selling tickets for those interested in an aerial view of the sinuous outdoor exhibit.

The project has drawn the attention of Christo and Jeanne-Claude fans worldwide, with tour operators in such countries as Germany and France – locations of the couple's previous installations – offering special New York packages. Though February is typically a slow month for tourism, many of these operators have reported brisk business.

Hundreds of extra police officers will supplement park enforcement and private security teams patrolling the park, monitoring the installation and deterring any possible vandals, a New York police spokesperson said this week.

Preparatory art pays for installations

Previously, the couple has swathed fabric around Berlin's Reichstag parliament building and around Pont Neuf, the famous Parisian bridge. They have also wrapped part of the Australian coastline in sand-coloured cloth and surrounded 11 islands in Florida with pink woven fabric.

The Bulgarian-born Christo and his French wife Jeanne-Claude, both 69, first proposed the project to city officials more than two decades ago. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg approved the installation in January 2003.

"Since I took office, I have been committed to improving and enhancing the unique New York City experience, and I believe that the display of thought-provoking and inspiring public art adds to this experience," Bloomberg said in a statement in November. "The Gates will transform Central Park and challenge viewers to revisit their preconceptions of public art and urban parks."

The couple does not accept sponsorships or donations, choosing to finance their work through the sale of earlier art created in the 1950s and 1960s, original lithographs and preparatory drawings, collages and scale models they make during the creation of their massive public installations.

Canadian retail magnate Galen Weston, who has amassed one of North America's largest private collections of Christo's preparatory works, has lent his entire collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario for an exhibit, which runs to May 15.