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Christo, “Over The River, Project For The Arkansas River, State of Colorado Collage” (2007), 8 1/2″ x 11″, Pencil, enamel paint, wax crayon, fabric sample and topographic map. Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © Christo 2007 (Image via overtheriverinfo.com)

It looks like artist Christo may soon be “hanging those sheets over the river,” as a federal judge once described a proposed art project in southern Colorado that has stirred much debate. On Friday, a Federal District Court upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to allow the environmental artist to install 5.9 miles of silver fabric above the Arkansas River, The Pueblo Chieftain reported.

Christo released a statement soon after the legal victory: “I was always confident the court would uphold the BLM’s actions because the Environmental Impact Statement conducted by the BLM was thorough and comprehensive. We have one appeal in state court still outstanding, but today we took a significant step forward in realizing Over The River.”

The agency’s approval of Christo’s project was challenged when law students at the University of Denver Law School filed a civil action lawsuit on behalf of the ad hoc activist group Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR) February 1, 2012. They claimed the agency had violated two laws — the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — by approving the project. In both cases, the court concluded that the BLM’s approval was “not arbitrary and capricious.”

The suit wasn’t the first that ROAR had filed involving the artwork. In 2011, they also sued the State Parks for allowing Christo to use the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which the Park co-manages with BLM. That case was dismissed on September 5, 2013, though ROAR appealed the decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. It is now the only suit that remains unresolved; an administrative appeal filed in 2011 by two individuals and an activist group called the “Quiet Use Coalition” over the BLM’s decision to grant Christo the ability to use BLM land was rejected in 2013.

“We have one lawsuit in state court still outstanding, but today we took a very significant and important step forward in realizing Over the River [OTR],” Christo told The Pueblo Chieftain, referencing the project’s name.

ROAR was sorely disappointed by the decision and is now contemplating further legal action, according to a statement released Saturday. The group is concerned about the effects of the $50 million project, which will drill 9,100 holes into the ground, some as deep as 30 feet, and require a crew of 3,000 workers to install over a 27-month period. The area is a habitat for Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, bald eagles, and Peregrine falcons, and the livelihoods of many locals depend on it.

“Ultimately ROAR knew it would be an uphill battle to stop Christo’s behemoth OTR project,” the group wrote. “But ROAR’s members know firsthand the incomparable values of the Arkansas River and the sensitive Bighorn Sheep Canyon, they call home. They, better than any others, know it is worth fighting even a massive Washington D.C. bureaucracy and a famous artist who does not care one bit about how his project will hurt people, wildlife, the land and the river.”

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

15 replies on “Judge Approves Christo’s Controversial Colorado Project”

  1. Christo’s “art” is crap. What a huge waste of money that could have been use to actually improve life instead of creating a monumental eyesore. Pathetic.

  2. not only will the installation disturb the habitat and beauty of the space by the sheer numbers of people and machines repeatedly trampling the land, but imagine what having the installation there is going to mean as thousands of visitors come to see it. We’ve seen what has happened to our country’s wild areas when we create tourist attraction out of them. this just doesn’t seem well thought out. keep the projects to the urban landscape.

  3. I don’t mind when Christo installs a project in a developed area but he needs to stay out of the Arkansas River Canyon. This project will be nothing but an eyesore in one of the most beautiful areas in Colorado. If he had any concern for the wildlife or environment he would never have proposed this piece in the first place. The fact that he has insisted on pushing this project through leads me to see him as a grand-stander who places his own agenda above the common good.

  4. I had the chance to see Christo’s ill-fated Umbrellas installation in the Gorman, CA, area years ago. While curiously interesting, it only lasted a few days before someone was killed by a mammoth umbrella that was felled by the high winds in the pass. When art is placed in developed and non-environmentally sensitive areas or is properly responsible to the environment it will be placed in, I am all for it. But I have to agree that the location and scope of this work cannot be supported; it is simply too destructive to an already fragile ecosystem. Christo needs to find another place to stake his monumental ego.

  5. The first Christo and Jean Claude project I followed and photographed was the Running Fence in Northern California. It was a stunning achievement of beauty and process. At that time, the virulent opposition made objections similar to those leveled against most Christo projects and echoed in the comments here: it’s not art, it’s a waste of money, it will damage the environment, the tourists will trample the earth beyond repair, etc. More than thirty-five years later none of those assertions have been substantiated or even repeated. I, today, and all readers and commenters here are participating in the ongoing conceptual drama that is the sociopolitical component of this work. Art? Folks, many who never give it a thought have impassioned arguments, hold meetings, debate and discuss and file law suits over–art! Waste? Unlike many artists who rely on grants, museum promotions and all the big biz of the big biz art world, Christo raises his own and spends his own money. It’s ok to opine that it is not worth it but many who have been touched deeply by its beauty and audacity would disagree with you. The holes dug for poles and guy wire anchors supporting the Running Fence have never been found to have caused any environmental damage whatsoever. The fifty-some ranchers whose land it crossed had as deep a concern for it as any environmentalist and they ended up proud of what they had made possible with their involvement and cooperation. I am unaware of any legal process succeeding or of any art-critical, environmental complaints substantiated against any Christo project–ever. The freak accident which closed down the Umbrellas was not found to have been a result of inadequate engineering or negligence. It was a hell of a storm–I was there–and in respect for the family of the tragically lost woman, Christo voluntarily closed down the entire thing. He initiated a most generous settlement for the bereaved family who bore him no ill will nor blame. I have a cousin who lives very near the river and was at first amused (he’s anything but an artist), then joined in the ranks of the opposition, and is now, having learned more about the plans and especially the environmental safeguards assured, is an enthusiastic supporter and eager to see it done. Anecdotal, I know. But this guy is not a pushover. I’d like readers and commenters to inform themselves further and if you still hate it, ok, there’s a bunch of art I can’t stand. (The Maisele ((spelling?))brothers’ series of documentary films on Christo projects are very informative.) But to condemn it on grounds that it is a harmful tourist attraction is to seriously misunderstand this work and the work which Christo has done for decades. Check it out. Thanks for reading.

    1. ‘… More than thirty-five years later none of those assertions have been substantiated or even repeated…

      Well, Christo’s works are certainly conceptually trivial, ugly and stupid, but that’s just my opinion. Christo is Jeff Koons writ large — Koons’s work, too, is talentless, ‘popular’, and sells tickets. We seem to live in accursed times as far as big-ticket public art goes. The fact that Christo can make a profit from these exercises just emphasizes the generic decay we are enduring.

          1. I believe that no wilderness area should be trashed, whether by clear-cutting logging companies, oil and gas drillers and frackers, whether in North America, Brazil, Africa or Colorado, whether the intent is profit or art. I know that every Christo project for decades has been carefully engineered with environmental protection a primary concern, whether in Rifle Gap or Central Park, Berlin or the Florida Keys. This record is not my opinion. It is fact. Ad hominem insult about anyone, artist or otherwise, teaches me nothing and certainly contributes nothing to a discussion about art. I’m eager to discuss Christo’s work, not just tossing unfounded condemnations, but in substantive discussion. I don’t see that happening much in this thread–yet. But I’m an optimist!

          2. I don’t see any ad hominem arguments here. An ad-hominem argument says that X is wrong because the proponent of X is a bad person. The arguments here say nothing about Christo’s character; they’re about his work. It hardly seems possible to discuss works of art without mentioning their aesthetic and conceptual qualities (if any) and one’s reaction to them. If the reactions are real, they will be varied. If you want to hear only praise for whatever you like, I’d suggest making a recording of your own and playing it over and over.

          3. Oh dear, this is testing my optimistic inclinations. Please notice I referred to the whole thread, which includes charges of his being a despoiler of habitat, a grandstander, a monumental ego, to which we may add your remarks making him out to be a Koons-like, talentless, big-ticket art biz profiteer willing to trash the environment to serve his banality. And then there’s me, apparently a person willing to hear only echoes of my own opinion. Seems a bit of an assessment of my character as well, don’t you think? Well please read again what I’ve written: none of it suggests you should like Christo or his work if you don’t want to. The “arguments” to which you refer are not arguments about his work. They are in fact not even arguments at all, but rather assertions stacked on top of assertions. Is there anything factual about the work you’d like to discuss? If so, let’s do it. Your sarcastic suggestions I can do without.

          4. Maysles, Albert and David, the documentarians who made films about Christo projects. Sorry about the misspelling.

          5. I am in complete agreement with Chuck Herndon on Christo’s integrity, respect for the environment, meaningful aesthetic conceptions and sensitive realizations. It is not ego but perserverance in realizing his conception and sharing it with the often-doubting public that drives him.

            Herndon recalls his experience of Christo’s first important project, Running Fence. Although I was in San Francisco at the time, I missed the opportunity to experience the Fence. I have talked to many who had seen it and been moved, but my favorite anecdote was told me by a California curator of modern art whose parents were farmers (like those who gradually agreed to the construction of the Fence across their properties). She drove them the full length of the Fence until it descended to the beach and stepped into the ocean. Her father’s remark: “I don’t like art and I don’t like fences–but I like THAT.” By the way most of Christo’s income has come from the sale of preparatory drawings and models that he built to develop the project. He is NOT Jeff Koons whose art is financed largely by investor/collectors who therefore have a direct stake in the success of his projects. These artists could not be more different.

          6. Indeed, Bill. One of the fundamental principles in Christo/Jean Claude projects has always been that the final piece is ephemeral, that it is public, no admission is charged to see it, anyone may document it in any way they please with photographic or other media, and that, of course, no one can own it or speculate on it for profit or prestige. There are extant only a couple very early wrapped pieces of small scale in museums. Many drawings, paintings, models are in private hands but they hardly constitute complicity in big-biz art decadence, they are renderings of dreams not yet realized. I think even more important than the temporary and outside-the-art-biz concept is the real devotion to the natural sites which the art interacts with and the outside-the-museum “ordinary” folks whose lives are touched by it and who vigorously advocate for or against it. Christo walked the entire 24-plus miles of the Running Fence site in preparation of his proposal. He knew every ridge and gully, its orientation to the morning and evening sun and prevailing winds, he knew much of that land even better than some of its owners did. He left openings for the movement of livestock and wildlife and understood by listening carefully, the needs of all, I believe, 52 owners whose property it crossed, especially the need not to damage the land in any way. Project materials are chosen and designed for maximum recycling capability. The same attention was paid to the impacts of the Umbrellas, the Islands, and the Central Park Gates which took extensive negotiation with the NYC and many stakeholders over decades of work. In his public discussions of his own ideas he always emphasizes a couple fundamentals: he is happy to live in a free society where personal ideas of beauty can be expressed; he doesn’t ascribe any didactic or polemical intent to any project and recognizes that the viewer may have any critical point of view she chooses. And lastly, that the vigorous discussion of art, what it is, what it does, what, if anything, it is for, is central to his intent and that negative even vitriolic comments are as welcome as the positive ones. Art, Christo fervently believes, should belong to the people.

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