Christo Hasn’t Given Up on Colorado Project

Sep 3, 2013

World renowned artist Christo still hopes to do an ambitious art installation in Central Colorado. Well known for The Gates, a New York City Central Park installation in 2005, he’s now proposing a project called Over the River. In it, fabric panels would be suspended over sections six miles of the Arkansas River. Christo’s work is often controversial, so it’s no surprise the proposal has met stiff opposition here.

Note: Want to hear Christo's entire talk at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center? Scroll the bottom of this post for full unedited audio.

Reporter: Like so many stories about art, this one is about love. To understand Christo, who lives and works in Manhattan, you have to also know about his wife, Jeanne-Claude. She was a dedicated and colorful personality… with brightly colored red hair and lipstick. They met in Paris in 1958, and, for the most part, were inseparable.

Jeanne-Claude: “I became an artist only out of love for Christo. And in our lectures I always say, if he had been a dentist I can bet you I would have become a dentist.”

Reporter: That’s Jeanne-Claude in a 2006 interview with the Vilcek Foundation in New York. The couple went on to design huge temporary works of art… including wrapping an historic Paris bridge in fabric and hanging a curtain between two mountain slopes near Rifle.

Nowadays, though, Christo is alone. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009. Before she died, the couple had planned Over the River. Christo wants to carry it out partly because of his love for his wife. A note--he’s originally from Bulgaria and has a thick accent.

Christo: “Jeanne-Claude and myself, we like so much that project. She’s gone now. And I’d like very much to pull out that project, because she spends so much time, invested so much of her energy, sleepless nights, and traveling…”

Reporter: So here’s what Over the River would look like. Christo wants to suspend silvery fabric above sections of the Arkansas River-- just under six miles, all told. The material would ripple and dance with the wind, reflecting the colors of the sky above and the water below. That would take twenty eight months to install, requiring cables and other heavy duty materials. And some believe that would create real problems. The group Rags Over the Arkansas River has filed lawsuits, one against the Bureau of Land Management, the agency overseeing much of the land where the project would be. Joan Anzelmo is the group’s spokeswoman.

Joan Anzelmo: “Over the River would be a two and a half year construction project, using the same kinds of equipment you’d use in a large scale mining operation. The Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and adjacent to the Arkansas River, is an area that would never would have mining and mineral excavation. It’s just wrong, and it really will hurt people and will hurt wildlife.”

Reporter: Because of the lawsuits, Christo is in a holding pattern. He can’t move forward with his project, but he can tell people about it. Christo recently gave a slide show of his previous works, at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village. He says he often he must overcome opposition to carry out the projects… in fact, it’s part of the process.

Christo: “There are many people [who] argue, how the project will be awful, how the project will be beautiful, the project will be that and that. Through that permitting period, the work of art develop his own identity. Anybody who thinks about the project, good or bad, is a part of the work of art.”

Reporter: Christo says his worst experience with opponents was over wrapping the Pont Neuf, a bridge in Paris. He got caught up in battles between politicians--and was even threatened with a personal attack. But wrapping a manmade structure in a large European city is different from hanging fabric over a river, where wildlife and rural economies are involved. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have done projects in similarly remote places-- like the Valley Curtain project in Rifle in 1972, and using fabric to surround the coastline of several islands near Miami. That was in the early 1980’s. If the lawsuits in play now are any indication, the public may be more likely to hold officials’ feet to the fire than they were decades ago.