Telluride Institute & Arts: Christo & “Over the River”

Christo, Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © Christo and Jeanne-Claude 2007

Telluride Institute & Arts: Christo & “Over the River”

“Revelation through concealment,” art critic David Bourdan

Christo and Jeanne-Claude,  Wolfgang Volz, © Christo 2005

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wolfgang Volz, © Christo 2005

About Christo:

Over 40 years, Christo and his wife and artistic partner Jeanne-Claude (now deceased) became world famous for transforming everyday urban and rural environments into places of magic and wonder. Among their landmark works (sadly temporary): “The Gates” in New York City’s Central Park; “Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin; and “Running Fence” in California’s Marin and Sonoma Counties. The awe-inspiring results of their special brand of magic stimulates our imagination: compelling us to take a second look at that which we might otherwise have taken for granted. We experience the joy of discovery.

The other work-in-progress, “The Mastaba,” is a stack of 410,000 oil barrels configured as a mastaba, a trapezoidal prism created for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. When completed, that will be Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s only permanent, large-scale work. “Big Air Package” was unveiled in March 2013. The museum installation is the world’s largest indoor, self-supported sculpture, on view at the Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany through December 30, 2013. “Over the River” will be, relatively speaking, in our own backyard.

Responding to an invitation from the Telluride Institute, with support from Telluride Arts, Christo will be in town Saturday, August 24, 7 p.m. to talk about the ebb and flow of “Over the River.” The lecture is sold out, but to get on the waiting list, we suggest you write to If you are unable to attend, listen to our conversation with the artist by clicking the “play” button (below).

“Over the River” – What it is and what good it will do:

The idea for “Over the River” dates back to 1985, when Christo and Jeanne Claude were wrapping the Pont-Neuf in Paris and a fabric panel was being elevated over the Seine. The four-year search for the right location – about 89 river sites were considered – began in 1992.

“Over the River” will suspend 5.9 miles of silvery, luminous fabric panels high above a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City in south-central Colorado for two weeks during a future August. Fabric panels that will highlight the contours of the river banks will be suspended at eight distinct areas of the river (totaling 5.9 miles) selected by the artists for their aesthetic merits and technical viability. Seen from underneath, the translucent fabric panels will enhance the contrast of the clouds, mountains and vegetation. The waves of fabric will also play off the natural lighting throughout the day, transitioning from shimmering pink in the morning light, to shiny silver in the mid-day sun to golden as the sun sets.

From the water level, the rafters, kayakers and canoeists on the Arkansas River will view blue sky, white cloud formations, and the undulating mountain skyline through the panels. Those viewing the art from above on Highway 50 will see panels that reflect the colors of the sky while moving with the wind like waves in the ocean. The panels will be suspended eight to 25 feet above the water, depending on the height of the banks. Between the waves of panels, there will be a total of 36.1 miles of interruptions, leaving those areas of the river and natural landscape untouched. Each pause between fabric panel sections will vary in length from 0.7 to 15.5 miles.

When it finally happens, “Over The River” will be an unforgettable cultural and historical event for our state. The project will also have substantial economic benefits. An EIS draft (Environmental Impact Survey) estimated “Over the River” will generate $121 million in economic activity, with all costs being covered by the artist, including expenses related to the permitting process, manufacturing, installation and removal, plus associated costs, environmental analysis, traffic control, trash removal and sanitation. In other words, “Over the River” will go up without public subsidy or taxpayer support. Financing for the project will come through the sale of Christo’s preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, and early works from the 1950s and 1960s.

As was the case with his previous installations in urban or rural environments, Christo will continue his and Jeanne-Claude’s commitment to respect and protect the environment. The installation team plans to work closely with nearby communities, local governments, and other agencies to avoid or minimize impacts associated with traffic, recreation, wildlife and the natural surroundings. “Over the River” will be installed in several phases over a two-year period.

A no-brainer, right?

Current history (and hassles) in brief to date:

Christo, Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © Christo and Jeanne-Claude 2007

Christo’s “Over The River”

Three years ago, in 2010, Telluride Inside… and Out trekked up to Salida with Will Thompson of the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, which has represented the artists’ drawings locally, to attend a Town Hall meeting on the project. The consensus appeared to tilt overwhelmingly in his favor – although there was a very vocal opposition.

Christo went on to receive federal approval for the project in November 2011. However, due to pending litigation instituted by ROAR (“Rags Across the Arkansas River,” the name of the local opposition) the exhibition date has been temporarily postponed until two lawsuits, one against Colorado State Parks and one against the Bureau of Land Management, are successfully resolved. An earlier administrative appeal was resolved in June 2013, when the Interior Board of Land Appeals upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s approval to use federal lands for the project.
As soon as these legal hurdles are cleared, Christo will set the exhibition year and secure the few remaining permits.

For more, listen to my in-depth conversation with the iconic artist.

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