Christo and Jeanne-Claude going ‘Over the River’ |

Christo and Jeanne-Claude going ‘Over the River’

Catherine FoulkrodSpecial to The Aspen Times

SALIDA – Walking across the stage hand-in-hand like young lovers, the illustrious landscape-fiber artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were wrapped in fervent applause.Jeanne-Claude’s bright orange hair and matching hair-tie shone brilliantly under the lights, and a giddy woman in the audience exclaimed, “Right here in little Salida!” The world-famous couple, known for such works as “The Gates” in Central Park (2005), “Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin (1995) and the “Surrounded Islands” in Miami, Florida (1983), among other projects, were at the Steam Plant Theater in Salida Monday to divulge and discuss plans for their up-and-coming project “Over the River.” The project proposes the suspension of 962 transparent, aluminum-coated fabric panels totaling seven miles, dispersed above a 40-mile stretch of the Arkansas River.The first glimmers of inspiration for “Over the River” appeared under a Parisian sun in 1985. The Bulgarian-born Christo and his French wife, Jeanne-Claude, were on a barge under the Pont Neuf in the process of wrapping the bridge. As the fabric was slowly hoisted into the air, the two momentarily ceased their incessant orders to the crew and “at some point… looked at each other with a big smile,” said Jeanne-Claude. But it wasn’t until 1992 that they asked, “What was that big smile in Paris?” and realized it to be a vision of fabric, sunshine, reflection and shadow over the river.Impetus for a new project in place, the two then set out to the Rocky Mountains and scouted 89 rivers and approximately 15,000 miles over three summers (1992-94). The choices were narrowed to six rivers, then finally to the section of the Arkansas River between Parkdale and the Chaffee County line.”It is a human river, with lots of villages and human activity,” said Jeanne-Claude. A highway runs alongside the river, which will allow visitors to view the installation from buses and cars. Hikers will be able walk down to the river and the panels will be suspended high enough (from a minimum of 8 feet to over 20 feet) that rafters will be able to experience the creation of light and shadows from underneath. Cloud formations, mountain contours, the horizon, and other features of the landscape will be visible through the cloth.”The incredible axis (between banks of the Arkansas) will give incredible light,” said Christo. “And there’s variety of topography … variety of situations, elevation, contour, interruptions-both natural and manmade elements,” which are all appealing to the vision. Other criteria included high banks, a lack of trees, and a moderate width to accommodate the cables that will support the fabric panels.Four engineering firms have been hired, one of which is conducting the environmental assessment that will be available to the public in June of next year. A memorandum of understanding is being sought out from 11 different local, state and federal agencies. If all goes through as hoped, the fabric panels will be installed for a month in the summer of 2008. As with all of their work, Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not accept any donations or commercial sponsorship.”We have made the aesthetic and moral decision to use only or own money on projects,” said Jeanne-Claude. All money for projects come from the sale of Christo’s preparatory studies, early works, and original lithographs. Two million dollars has been spent on the project thus far, and the couple vows they will spend whatever it takes to complete it. “All costs of our projects are the same to us,” said Jeanne-Claude, “which is everything we have, and sometimes everything the bank will give us.”When asked what the long-term economic benefits for the counties would be, Christo and Jeanne-Claude said they were not able to project what might happen, especially because this will take place in a rural area. It was noted, however, that “The Gates” in New York City brought in $254 million in just 16 days.Other concerns included housing for tourists, traffic congestion, emergency access and trash management. Dan Larkin, director of the Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep Society, wanted to know the steps being taken in consideration of the local big horn sheep herd. The Arkansas River is the herd’s only water source, and they are easily spooked by human activity. “In the last 13 years we haven’t even had the train running . . . and now there’s going to be compressors and crews in the canyon,” Larkin said. A member of the artists’ support team said that they were working on the issue with the proper authorities. Larkin said he “found the answer evasive.”Other audience members stood up not to ask questions but to express their gratitude and appreciation. A local teacher asked if they would visit her school. Another said she, “knew of no other artwork that engages the spectator this way … thank you.”Yet another woman asked what Christo and Jeanne-Claude needed from the community. “Good vibrations,” answered Jeanne-Claude. “And a good word.”For more information on “Over the River” visit Catherine Foulkrod’s e-mail address is

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