For five decades artist Christo has been inspiring and infuriating, uniting and dividing communities large and small, urban and rural, around the globe.
Last Friday, nineteen years after he and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in late 2009), conceived of their proposed Colorado project Over the River, it came one step closer to fruition. The Colorado State Land Board approved two land leases necessary to allow the project to move forward. As with his other works over the years, Over the River will be a temporary installation--5.9 miles of shimmering fabric panels suspended above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado for a two week stretch--if all goes as planned, in August 2014.
I am unabashedly smitten by each of Christo's pieces, a portfolio of the unlikeliest of undertakings that includes wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris, the Reichstag in Berlin and islands in Biscayne Bay, erecting giant umbrellas across rolling Japanese and California landscapes, bright orange gates in Central Park. And the multi-year process that brings each sweeping project to life--the inception of the idea, the meticulous studying, planning, permitting and the patient, committed coalition building--is as interesting, inspiring as the works themselves.
Over the River has proven to be a particularly contentious piece--although all have had their detractors. The very last approval for the project is expected this fall from the Bureau of Land Management. Yet, opponents--including the main one, Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR)--remain fired up. Some are angered by the disruption they anticipate from the two year construction period, others by potential environmental consequences--despite extensive environmental planning and mitigation commitments, a group is threatening to sue, which may bog the process down yet again.
Over the River is as close as its ever been to moving forward. But it remains at a standstill. The Gates is the only work of Christo's I've seen in person. I'd love to raft down the Arkansas under Over the River.
A Wall Street Journal article on the challenges of rallying the surrounding Colorado communities was published last fall. You can read it here. And a September Q & A with Christo, published in the Denver Post, is here. In it Christo discusses how he and Jeanne Claude chose the Arkansas River for the project, as well as some of the environmental impact issues, which you can also read about in more detail on Christo's site here and on the Bureau of Land Management's site here. A video of Christo at the proposed site for Over the River is here.
Award-winning filmmakers David and Albert Maysles, directors of the iconic Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter, have made multiple films recording Christo and Jeanne Claude at work. Two--Christo's Valley Curtain and Running Fence--received Academy Award nominations.
At the same time that he pursues completion of Over the River, Christo is simultaneously working to bring forth another long-term vision in the United Arab Emirates. The Mastaba, conceived in 1977, would be an installation constructed of brightly colored oil barrels in the desert 100 miles south of Abu Dhabi.
Photo: Wolfgang Volz, Project Rendering by Christo