In the largest outcry heard from the art community against President Donald Trump yet, artist Christo announced last week he will walk away from what would have been his biggest work ever attempted in the U.S.
The shimmering, silver canopy draped intermittently above a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida was conceived by Christo, 81, and his late wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude over 20 years ago. The project had already received $15 million of financial backing from the artist himself before he pulled the plug.
“After pursuing Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, for 20 years and going through five years of legal arguments, I no longer wish to wait on the outcome. I have decided to devote all of my energy, time, and resources into the realization of the Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which Jeanne-Claude and I conceived 40 years ago,” Christo said in a statement on January 25.
The scenic sweep of the Arkansas River was chosen by the famed couple for its high river rafter volume, meaning more eyes would be on the work of art from its best vantage point: the water. However, the rafting hot spot is federally owned, and Christo never imagined his project would benefit the area’s new landlord simply because he never imagined Trump would be elected.
While Christo fought for over two decades make his vision a reality, some locals staunchly opposed the massive project, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management did not account for possible danger to wildlife and negative impacts to traffic through the Bighorn Sheep Canyon before approving it. One group happy with Christo’s decision is Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR), which was created specifically to oppose the project.
“ROAR is thrilled that Christo, at last, decided to cancel his ill-conceived Over the River project,” said ROAR spokesperson Joan Anzelmo. “Our organization has worked for 18 years to prevent this project from going forward. We have been very strategic in the steps we have taken, and at last we have defeated Christo and people that live there are going to be better off, and so too will wildlife, birds, and fish.”
Christo succeeded in every Over the River court case necessary to complete the project thus far, arguing that he had taken every step possible to prevent any long-term damage to the area. The artist is still awaiting a decision by federal appeals court, but told the New York Times January 25 that even if he won, he would have no interest in forging ahead to complete the project.
Christo funds all of his projects, and installing 5.9 miles worth of the fabric panels for an estimated two years and dismantling them again after two weeks on display could have cost him upwards of $50 million.