Opposition Mounts for Christo and Jeanne Claude River Project

Opposition Mounts for Christo and Jeanne Claude River Project
An ambitious plan that artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude pursued in Colorado for more than a decade — to cover a six-mile stretch of the Arkansas River with shimmering fabric — has come up against a wellspring of opposition, putting in question a project that local art organizations have hoped will bring the state prestige and millions in tourism dollars. This month the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for vetting the $50 million undertaking (funded entirely by private sources), has opened the floor to the public during four meetings. Hundreds of people attended, most of them arguing against going forward with the piece, titled "Over the River."

"Doing this project in the canyon would be like a beautiful daughter sold into prostitution," one Coloradan told the Denver Post. "Hanging rags over the river is the same as hanging pornography in a church," another, a raft guide, opined. The surprisingly virulent sentiments were voiced just weeks after an editorial in the Post labeled the project "over the top" and questioned its efficacy as a tourism generator. "In our minds, draping fabric over the area would be akin to putting lipstick on a toddler and entering her in a pageant," the piece stated. "Why do such a thing?" Environmental concerns, such as the fact that the plan would necessitate the drilling of 9,000 holes along the Colorado riverbank, also raised hackles about the artwork.

The negative response to "Over the River," which Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who passed away last year) have already spent $7 million devising and planning, has taken local arts figures aback. Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson told the Post it was "literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that could be the artist duo's last project. Letting it slip away "would be a huge loss for the state," she said.

The couple's previous high-profile project, "The Gates," filled New York's Central Park with 7,500 saffron-colored gates, attracting about 4 million visitors to the city and creating a $254 million economic boon. Colorado's Bureau of Land Management will continue to hear public opinions about "Over the River," through September 13, and will announce its decision regarding the project in February.