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Christo at the “Over the River” site in 2010 (screenshot of  YouTube video)

The artist Christo appeared in Cañon City, Colorado, yesterday to announce the postponement of his controversial “Over the River” project. The 77-year-old artist did not give a new date for the project, saying only that the current legal issues need to be resolved before the work can go forward.

“I am fully committed to ‘Over The River’ just as Jeanne-Claude [Christo’s late wife] and I have always envisioned it,” he said, “and I look forward to having these legal hurdles behind us so we can realize this temporary work of art in Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley.”

“Over the River” calls for the suspension of 5.9 miles of silvery, translucent fabric over a federally protected section of the Arkansas River, between Salida and Cañon City, Colorado, for two weeks. But a slew of activists and environmentalists are fighting the project, over concerns about the way it would impact both wildlife in the area and nearby towns and communities. The central group of opponents, Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR), has filed two lawsuits regarding the artwork, one against the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Board and another against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The BLM is also facing a legal appeal challenging its approval of Christo’s project from an individual unconnected with ROAR. Last month, a court ruled to temporarily halt ROAR’s lawsuit while that prior appeal is processed. ROAR told Hyperallergic at the time that the appeal “will take forever” — or at least months, a fact that Christo seems to finally have acknowledged.

In a statement announcing the delay, Christo’s team emphasized the artist’s continued commitment to the “Over the River”:

Christo remains committed to realizing “Over The River,” despite this situation, which is not unusual for his temporary works of art. He and Jeanne-Claude have faced similar challenges before the realization of previous works. It is unclear how the pending litigation will affect the project schedule, but Christo will continue to work on several aspects of “Over The River” as the legal process proceeds, including the bighorn sheep treatment program and the completion of the installation Event Management Plan.

“While Christo remains confident that the legal challenges will not succeed,” the statement also says, “it would be unwise to order materials and begin installing the project before the lawsuits are successfully resolved.”

To counter that, ROAR offered Hyperallergic a strongly worded comment on the latest news (emphasis theirs):

ROAR will continue to work hard to expose the destructive and dangerous nature of Christo’s proposed “Over the River” project and the significant impacts it would present to people and wildlife along the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and on U.S. Highway 50 for upwards of four years including the construction phase, display phase and rehab phase. ROAR is even more confident than Christo — and ROAR believes that the OTR project will never happen.

As his own team noted, however, Christo is no stranger to controversy — he and Jeanne-Claude fought legal battles to realize many of their projects. He’s also used to waiting: the couple’s famous New York City project, “The Gates,” was first conceived in 1979 and only realized 26 years later, in 2005.

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and...

2 replies on “Christo Announces Indefinite Delay in Colorado”

  1. Jillian, this is such a wild story. Thanks for the awesome write up. I’ve been looking through the docs, including the full set of arguments ROAR made to the county: Their beef with Christo isn’t just environmental – there is a lot in here about local economic impact, traffic congestion etc. So I’m not sure if I would call them pure enviornmentalists. It’s hard to tell what is speculation and what is a real threat. It’s interesting how people scream about enviornmental impact over this temporary art but not over the thousands of other activities that damage the enviornment like burning fossil fuels, mining, or a bunch of other things.

    1. Yes, you’re right, Daniel—it’s incorrect to just call them “environmentalists.” That was an oversight on my part, and I’ve fixed it. Thanks!
      But yeah, I think what’s most fascinating to me about this whole situation—which I’ve read far too much about, at this point—is how impossible it is to actually tell what’s speculation and what might be real. There’s just no way to know, and the two sides continually present opposing research with opposite conclusions! It all seems like such a mess. A big part of me wishes I could go out there myself, to see it with my own eyes and talk to people in the area.

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