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Christo pays visit to Aspen

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
ALL |

ASPEN ” Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude don’t have small ideas.

And on Tuesday the pair presented their big plans for western Colorado’s Arkansas River between Canon City and Salida to an Aspen Ideas Festival audience at the Paepcke Auditorium.

Known for their ephemeral outdoor installations, Christo and Jeanne-Claude became famous for wrapping fabric around natural and manmade structures ” everything from fountains and towers to the Reichstag in Germany and miles of coastline in Australia.

They surrounded a string of Florida islands in cloth, planted miles of oversized umbrellas in Japan and California and recently gained popularity for their 2005 project in New York’s Central Park, “The Gates.”

Now they want to hang 5.9 miles of silvery, luminous fabric over parts of a 40-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in a work they call “Over the River.”

The only obstacles that stand in their way are the U.S. government and a few vocal detractors in Colorado.

But they are undaunted.

“People are afraid of what they don’t understand,” said Jeanne-Claude. “What we wish to create is a work of art of joy and beauty.”

The two have held many public meetings and said they are working with their small staff to gain federal approval ” much of the land along Highway 50 and the Arkansas is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

They hope “Over the River” will go up for two weeks in the summer of 2012.

The artists chose the Arkansas River because it is the most rafted river in the U.S. and they hope visitors can experience the piece not only from Highway 50, but by paddling rafts under a roof of cloth.

“From above, the project will look like waves in the water,” Christo said.

The area is familiar territory for the pair who, in 1972, hung “Valley Curtain,” a 381-meter long wall of cloth across Rifle Gap.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have completed 19 major works and been refused on 37, they said, adding that the years of government applications and community meetings are part of the artistic process.

“It’s very complicated,” said Jonita Davenport, project director with Christo and Jeanne-Claude since 1989. “But it’s going in the right direction.”

Traffic control is the major concern on Highway 50, and the artists have faced considerable opposition from residents in a handful of small riverside communities, Davenport said.

The artists recently filed a 2,000-page application with federal officials and are just now beginning an environmental impact study (at the request of Christo), Davenport said.

But Christo and Jeanne-Claude said there is nothing political about their works, nor do they choose sites they believe will be politically charged or difficult to gain approval.

“They are totally useless,” Jeanne-Claude said of the installations. “They’re only works of art.”

“I escaped from a communist country and I will not do anything for a purpose,” Christo said, adding that anything with any message at all is propaganda.

Born on the same day ” June 13, 1935 ” the couple met in 1958, married and in 1964 moved to the New York studio they still call home.

They raise money for their projects solely by selling Christo’s collages of proposed works.

“The Gates,” for example, cost more than $20 million, but they charge no entrance fees, nor do they sell any T-shirts or make money on photo books of their work.

“We do what we want where we want it,” Jeanne-Claude said.

The artist also are working on approval to make “Mastaba,” a massive work of 390,500 stacked oil barrels in The United Arab Emirates.

For more information about “Over the River,” visit their website at http://www.christojeanneclaude.net.

cagar@aspentimes.com


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