Over the River: the Fine Line Between Art and Environment


Since the mid-1990s, artist Christo has been planning his “Over The River” project: an installation that would drape nearly 6 miles of shimmering fabric over a river in Colorado. The original plan was to debut the installation in 2001. Since then, it’s been pushed back to 2003, then 2008 and 2014. This past week, it experienced yet another setback – the artist announced he would be delaying the project an additional year, to 2015 “at the earliest.”

This is a voluntary delay on Christo’s part. He wants to be able to extend the 2-year installation and construction period to 28 months, on the principle that taking more time will mean a safer experience for all involved – although locals who have to drive on the winding canyon road that runs along the river may not be too happy about the extension. He also wants to address concerns about the safety of the installation, which have inspired not only anxiety, but lawsuits from the local group Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR.

ROAR heavily protested the proposed installation at a hearing in early February, spending nearly 10 hours debating the merits of “Over the River.” Some were concerned that the project would damage the natural beauty of the landscape. Some raised concerns about the safety of travelers in the canyon. Fewer still were pleased with the prospect of 2 years of construction for a piece of art that’s only going to be up for public view for 2 weeks. As a whole, ROAR members were frustrated that the feelings and desires of the local population seemed to be completely disregarded. Fremont County Sheriff James Beicker even argued that the installation could attract terrorists to the canyon, who would then free inmates from local prisons as part of their scheme.

One former Park Service employee, Joan Anzelmo, insisted that the environmental impact of the project hasn’t been adequately addressed. The Denver Post quoted Anzelmo as saying:

“Certainly there are similarities when you are trying to help people have a voice to a very large set of authorities that are above them,” said Anzelmo, who joined ROAR last year as a volunteer, after serving in Colorado and in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. “I’ve had the privilege in my career to literally speak for the grizzly bear and the buffalo and the bighorn sheep. I have a tremendous affinity for the natural world, and it struck me as not only shocking but deeply sad that a man-made project of this scale would disrupt the lives of people who have lived here all their lives and would destroy the habitat all of us have worked hard to steward along the way. I think about the impact to bald eagles and sheep, and those two species alone make this (project) unacceptable.”

While the terrorist threat is probably overstated, concerns about safety and the environment are more understandable objections. ROAR has filed two lawsuits to try to block the project from going forward. One is targeted at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Board, the other at the Bureau of Land Management.

It’s looking like the project may happen eventually. The Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow the project was challenged, but the Interior Board of Appeals declined to issue a stay on the decision in January. Christo’s spokesman called the move “a green light” for the project.

Personally, as Coloradoan and art enthusiast, I’d like to see the installation happen, so long as adequate research is done regarding the safety of the set-up and the environmental impact. But I’d be a tourist from the city, and I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss the concerns of the people who will actually have to live with it. If the project needs to be delayed further, or even cancelled, to ensure the safety of the humans and animals living along the Arkansas River, that seems a small price to pay.


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Photo copyright: Moyan Brenn


Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

This should never go ahead.

Jay Williamson
Jay w5 years ago

the mind boggles at the sanity of the people allowing this monstrosity to go ahead

Cindy B.
Cindy Black5 years ago

Can Christo really believe that yards of billowing pink fabric, thousands of orange balloons, pea-green vinyl banners (etc) can actually IMPROVE the looks of a beautiful natural wilderness? If not, then what is his artistic statement? What is his message? It escapes me, I must admit. I’m sure I’m not alone.

BUT THE WASTE IS VERY TROUBLING. Even a Starbucks cup in the garbage makes me cringe a little. Geez...the thing is used once and then trashed. Enter CHRISTO, who employs boxcar loads of fabrics, plastics and garish dyes to drape and festoon what doesn't need draping and festooning -- and then tears it all down in short order! The total carbon footprint is mindboggling. And for what? To realize one man's takes on the perverse co-option of natural space on a massive scale -- to create monuments of outlandishness to whisper his name long after he’s gone.

YES IT’S HIS MONEY, BUT STILL.... Christo spends massive $$$$ up front just to get the rights to, uh, festoon an area. THEN he spends boucoup MORE to manufacture all that voluminous material, most likely rich in toxins. THEN, even more $$$ to get it all installed and later taken down. As someone who’s well aware of the dire straits being endured, as we speak, by innocent people and animals all over this earth, I simply cannot celebrate all that money -- all that precious money --- going to pink plastic skirts for mountains instead.

In my book, Christo’s work is

Hannah Short
Hannah Short5 years ago

if it pollutes our beautiful earth it is not art and should be illegal. he should be arrested before he gets a chance to do something so vile

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

How can covering a river for 2 miles not hav an environmental impact? how will bugs fall into the river or escape from hatching if trepped in? and I agree about the Eagles but can other animals also not get trapped and drown? racoons mice deer? what about other birds and reptailes? this sounds like a massive construction project. how are they going to stop any sedimtary runoff form the people working on it. This clown needs to drop his ego and walk on.

Isabel A.
Isabel Araujo5 years ago

Totally unnecesary... Thank you.

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.5 years ago

Although Christo's intrusion of installation of the man-made media (fabric) into a natural context has surrealist artistic VISUAL effect, doing so physically, had been the more direct way to achieve that effect.
Nowadays, this is totally unnecessary, as virtual digital alteration of adding man-made elements of any kind (fabric, or anything else made) to natural landscapes can do the same thing, and without interfering with the aesthetics of natural settings preferred untampered by all else.
Draping a man-made fabric of unnatural visual texture in a man-made pattern is no different than if one wanted to line up intrusive and unwanted, potentially risky, other man-made materials, be it plastic, steel, scrap junk, garbage cans, shattered glass, nuclear waste, 'anything you can think of that is manufactured by humans'... plastered over the natural landscape as 'art' (which may easily be an inside joke of a stunt by the artist to violate the natural landscape, just to see what the 'ignorant masses' are will to 'fly over their heads' without complaint)... one could even substitute 'industrial sludge' or 'animal farm shit' or 'deadly environmental poison (say 'colorful dioxin waste')' and then you get the point of that 'art', which the 'fancy fabric' is hardly any different.
No doubt, anything man-made... has its look unique to being non-natural... and depicting it in a natural visual context, is BEST done virtually via digital image alteration instead.

Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher5 years ago

Leave Nature alone pseudo-artist Christo!
How dare you disturb Mother Nature in the name of what you call art?
Soon it will be fineable to disturb Nature in any way.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M5 years ago

I would not be in favour of this project. I am an art lover in all different forms, but who knows how this could affect the environment.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

seems kind of pointless... i would go to see it