What happens when an artist decides to hang six miles of fabric over a river in South Central Colorado? Well, that depends what side of the river you are on. If you're on the side of art and conceptual installation, a project of this nature is like being a kid on Christmas morning. If, on the other hand, you're on the side of nature conservancy, it might be an act akin to Sinead O’Connor ripping a picture of the pope in half.
Thus, we enter into the controversy surrounding the current project by much lauded conceptual artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The project, Over The River, is a fabric installation that was initially conceived by Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude during the team’s installation at Pont Neuf in Paris in 1985. It has been in development ever since.
Calling for 5.9 miles of shimmering silver fabric, Over the River will feature translucent cloth suspended above the Arkansas River, secured bankside by sturdy anchors in the canyon walls. The installation will be broken into eight fabric panels and span across a 42-mile stretch of the river; each panel residing at carefully chosen sights. The project is in line aesthetically and conceptually with past projects by the duo, which habitually involve draping/suspending fabric from diverse locations, or wrapping various structures and objects in fabric. As usual, the project is completely self-funded by the artist, who has already invested well over $6 million into research, development, and testing of materials for the installation.
Now enters the controversy. An alliance of local residents and environmental conservationists have raised an uproar over the project, claiming it will have an ecologically negative impact on the fragile high desert environment. Christo and his supporters argue that the project will not only bring important discourse on contemporary art and its relationship to the environment to the region, but will also serve as a conduit to increase tourism to South Central Colorado and boost local economies.
Though there has been a flurry of litigation surrounding the project, the Bureau of Land Management as well as the State Parks voted to permit Christo to proceed with Over the River. More lawsuits have been filed against the BLM and State Parks, further delaying contruction of the project. Initially slated to be installed in 2012, at this stage a realistic exhibition date is 2015.
The tension that surrounds Over The River between the artist and the groups that oppose the project only intensifies the interest in this next chapter of Christo’s practice as an artist. At this point, it is pretty clear Christo will get his way and commence the project in the next few years, however there will always be people who oppose having the work of the extoled Bulgarian visionary installed in their backyards.
Sketches courtesy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Erin Joyce is an independent curator and art critic based in California. Raised in the wilds of Arizona, educated in Dallas, London, and Washington DC, Erin is the editor-in-chief of ULTRA:EXTRA, an arts and culture writer for Art Wednesday, and contributing author to Hyperallergic.