a tale of a few cities

Christo, Over the River

Christo, moments after I asked whether anybody had ever called him the first wrap artist. Tate Britain, 14.09.2011

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Christo, Over the River (Project for Arkansas River, State of Colorado), Drawing 2010 in two parts, 15 x 96″ and 42 x 96″ (38 x 244 cm and 106.6 x 244 cm), Pencil, pastel, charcoal, wax crayon, enamel paint, wash, fabric sample, hand-drawn topographic map and technical data (Photo: André Grossmann) © 2010 Christo

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Federal regulators on Monday approved a $50 million installation of anchored fabric over the Arkansas River in southern Colorado by the artist Christo, whose larger-than-life vision has divided environmentalists, residents and politicians for years over questions of aesthetics, nature and economic impact.

The project, “Over the River,” will include eight suspended panel segments totaling 5.9 miles along a 42-mile stretch of the river, about three hours southwest of Denver. Construction could begin next year, pending final local approvals, with the goal being a two-week display of the work as early as August 2014.

Christo’s projects — from the wrapping of the Reichstag Parliament building in Berlin in 1995 to “The Gates,” a meandering path of orange awnings through Central Park in New York in 2005 — have often generated heated debate in advance of their creation.

“We are elated,” Christo said. “Every artist in the world likes his or her work to make people think. Imagine how many people were thinking, how many professionals were thinking and writing in preparing that environmental impact statement.” [NYTimes]

This past September, Christo gave a rare talk in London about two works in progress, Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado and The Mastaba, Project for the United Arab Emirates. He talked about the concepts behind these two artworks, and the significant process of production and realisation when working on large-scale environmental artworks. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the 2nd row center, it just so happened that he sat directly in front of me narrating while slides of his projects were projected on stage. He spoke much about the Over the River project but I was most intrigued by The Mastaba project (a monumental artwork, set in the Abu Dhabi desert, to be made of approximately 410,000 horizontally stacked oil barrels). I had always thought The Mastaba had been abandoned so was delighted to hear that it is an artwork still in preparatory stages.

During question time I asked how one might volunteer to work on one of his projects (48:55). He immediately pointed out that everybody working on his projects is paid since you could not fire volunteers. Jeanne-Claude (his now deceased wife), made sure that laboring help was paid 25% above minimum wage. I was amazed at Christo’s energy and level of enthusiasm, being that he is 76 years old.

Artist’s Talk: Christo, Tate Britain, Wednesday 14 September 2011
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