Opinion: Over the River project is an artistic boondoggle

A conceptual rendering of what Over the River might look like. IMAGES COURTESY OVER THE RIVER WEBSITE.

Colorado’s rivers don’t need artificial improvements or enhancements

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After traveling 14,000 miles and inspecting 89 rivers in the Rocky Mountains, you’d think that Christo would come to the realization that our spectacular streams don’t need much in the way of artistic improvement. Yet the Bulgarian-born artist continues to pursue his Over The River project despite serious opposition, criticism and questions from citizen groups, hunters and anglers and even the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The installation has also drawn some public support, notably from Gov. Hickenlooper, who cited the potential statewide tourism benefits of the project, and from the Colorado State Parks board, which, for reasons many people don’t understand, voted to approve a memorandum of understanding with Christo that promises to address and mitigate the project’s impacts. By some estimates, the installation could attract anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million visitors to the area.

The industrial-scale installation would involve temporarily draping more than five miles of fabric paneling across a wild stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida. After finding little support for his concept in the Arkansas Valley, Christo today is appearing in Eagle County at a Vail Symposium event that’s part of an arts in education series (July 19, 5 p.m. at the Lodge at Vail).

The project is currently under review by the Bureau of Land Management, which may issue a decision later this summer. If approved, the installation could take place in 2014. But the futuristic drapes are opposed by a number of groups, and for good reasons, including soil disturbance and impacts to bighorn sheep. Those objections have been well documented in a series of comment letters to the BLM and they’re also outlined at www.roar.colorado.org.

For what it’s worth, I have nothing against public art, or against art in general. Art is one of the noblest frontiers of human existence and I think artists deserve an exalted place in our pantheon.I support arts education and I believe in the power of art to heal and transform.

I respect artistic vision, to the point that, if someone believes draping fabric over a river gorge is art, it is, at least in the eye of the beholder.

My problem with Over the River is that it seeks to improve on, exploit and perhaps — especially given the over-sized ego of the artist — even dominate nature. And I’ve had just about enough of man’s domination and exploitation of nature.

Colorado’s natural scenic beauty doesn’t need any enhancement, and Colorado doesn’t need Christo and hubris-fueled industrial art installations. The fishing, rafting and wildlife watching along the Arkansas River is a hundred times more valuable than any short-term economic benefits an influx of tourists can bring.

Christo, go to New York, Chicago, L.A. or Denver, find a blighted area and do something there to make it more visually appealing, or — what a concept — to actually improve the lives of the people who live there. Leave our rivers alone!

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6 thoughts on “Opinion: Over the River project is an artistic boondoggle

  1. “Christo, go to New York, Chicago, L.A. or Denver, find a blighted area and do something there to make it more visually appealing, or — what a concept — to actually improve the lives of the people who live there. Leave our rivers alone!” Well said, Bob.

    In addition, even though the artist thinks it won’t, how could this not affect the natural balance of things? How about the temperature of the water and diving birds’ access to food and the natural exchange of air currents and the artificial reflections throwing off bird flights? If nothing else, just the disruption during construction would stress already-imposed-upon wildlife. What is the artist thinking?

  2. When Christo was planning to put up the Gates in Central Park, I rolled my eyes. I was working in a cubicle overlooking Central Park at the time and I thought “how can anyone think they can improve upon one of the most beautiful city parks in the world with ‘saffron’ flags?” I thought he must have had quite the ego to try to pull that off. Then the gates started going up in small groups everyday. Trails of saffron grew, standing out in the white, snowy park. It looked beautiful. It was fun to walk amongst with the other gawkers on the suddenly more magical park paths. It changed our perspective of a place we all knew so well. It was up for a while, we all enjoyed it, and we moved on. During the time they were up I ran into Christo and his wife at a small museum in Chelsea. He was the friendliest artist I had met, not a shred of ego. He saw the world as a magical place, and it seemed he just wanted to highlight that for those who struggled to see the magic and whimsy.

    1. Thanks Garrett, I like your observation that the Central Park installation changed your perspective on a familiar place. I remember seeing photos of that project and they were aesthetically pleasing. I also remember the giant umbrellas along I-5 near Tehachapi Pass in Cali. Driving by, it added a whimsical touch to that landscape. I kinda feel like both those areas have already felt the heavy hand of man, and that they were appropriate for artistic intervention. I’m just struggling with the venue for this project.

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