Christo works to save vision for Colorado project
July 6, 2010
DENVER, Colorado – Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude promised each other that one day they would realize their vision of miles of silvery, translucent fabric suspended over the roaring Arkansas River in southern Colorado – even, in Christo’s telling, if one of them should die.
Since the project’s inception in 1992 and the beginning of its permitting process in 1997, many things did happen – including the husband-and-wife team’s New York City extravaganza, “The Gates,” 7,503 fabric panels installed in Central Park in 2005.
Jeanne-Claude died last November at 74. Now Christo waits alone for the federal Bureau of Land Management – which has jurisdiction over most of the lands involved – to determine the project’s fate.
The agency is due to release a draft environmental impact statement on the couple’s 2,029-page proposal in mid-July. As is standard, the draft will include alternatives for the public to review. Though they have opponents, Christo’s team hopes the public rallies for one closest to the artists’ original vision.
Christo, based in New York, hasn’t tired of touting Over the River: “There is no comparison to any work of art in a gallery, museum or exhibition. It involves entire human society. It deals with land belonging to the nation.”
A grand but probably not overstated scenario, considering that the couple previously sheathed the German parliament building with fabric for “Wrapped Reichstag,” erected a 24-mile fabric fence across California hills to the Pacific Ocean for “Running Fence,” and encircled 11 islands in Biscayne Bay with pink, floating fabric for “Surrounded Islands.”
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For Over the River, the artists proposed taking about two years to set up a system of anchors, frames and cables to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric across eight spots along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas between the scenic town of Salida and Canon City. Most of the river would be untouched, and the fabric would hang roughly horizontally, 8 to 25 feet above the water.
Viewers looking down from U.S. 50 on one side of the river or from a Union Pacific Railroad line on the other would see colors of morning light, daytime sun and sunset reflected by the fabric, according to Christo. River rafters would see clouds, mountains and sunlight streaming through as wind ripples the cloth.
“All of the project will be in constant motion,” Christo said. “You cannot see wind, but the fabric will show you the wind.”
Not everyone expects it to look just like that, of course.
One opposition group with the acronym ROAR, for Rags Over the Arkansas River, says it might be art, but it’s totally the wrong venue. “Too many people are affected,” said ROAR President Dan Ainsworth, 65, “too much ecology in the canyon.”
Critics worry about irregularly shaped fabric panels weighing more than 100 pounds each hanging over the heads of canoeists, kayakers and rafters. And they say the project will be detrimental to fly-fishing and to traffic on Highway 50.
“Christo is an artist,” said Ainsworth. “He’s a con artist.”
Christo and his team have listened to concerns.
They hope to exhibit “Over the River” for just two weeks in summer – preferably August, after the busy rafting season ends, school buses aren’t yet using the highway, and when newborn ewes of bighorn sheep would be least disturbed.
Futhermore, they say the say they have conducted rigorous safety tests, including a wind tunnel test and a separate real-world test in western Colorado. Plus, they’ve created a large-scale outdoor piece in Colorado before, “Valley Curtain,” which featured 142,000 square feet of orange nylon across Colorado 325.
Carol Wilson, who along with her husband leased some of their land for that 1972 project, said it was “gorgeous” and without ill-effect.
With their positions well set, Christo and his opponents await word from the feds.
Hundreds of people have already weighed in with the government, and there will be a 45-day comment period when the draft is released.
“In any project proposal, we look to see the potential impacts to the human environment – natural resources, socio-economic, safety,” BLM spokeswoman Cass Cairns said. “It could go either way.”
Over the River project director Jonita Davenport said the eight river sections are key to the artists’ vision, as is the timing, to make best use of summer sun and how it will play off mountain walls and river bends.
Christo’s team says that $7 million has already been spent on what will be a $50 million project, and the earliest it could be completed is 2013, when Christo would be 78.
After its two-week run, they said, crews would take everything down, leaving little but memories.