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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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'Art' Fights Nature in Colorado


'Art' Fights Nature in Colorado

Colorado's Arkansas River is a masterpiece. Crafted by the Creator, it is a natural work of art that needs no improvement. That a ludicrous proposal to cover 42 miles of it with 120-foot-wide fabric has gotten as far as it has speaks to the marketing genius of showman-artist "Christo."

Bulgarian-born Christo Javacheff has succeeded in running a white fabric fence along 25 miles of Northern California. The so-called environmental artist has surrounded islands in Florida's Key Biscayne with pink polypropylene and erected 7,500 orange panels in New York City's Central Park. Each time he came up against local opposition. Each time he won.

May the angry foes of his plans for Southern Colorado change that score. Owned by the American public, the Arkansas River can't be altered without the Bureau of Land Management's OK. The sanctity of natural beauty and public property should be worth something.

An opposition group named Rags Over the Arkansas River has called Christo an "eco terrorist." That may be going a bit far. "Presumptuous egomaniac" would be more like it.

In a tour of the riverbank, Christo pointed to a boulder in the water and told a Wall Street Journal reporter: "This rock, we leave in the sun. You come out from under the fabric, and suddenly you'll see the clouds and the light — it'll all break open, beautiful."

Since when did Christo get to decide which rocks in the Arkansas River are allowed to see the sun? (For an idea on how gruesome this project would look, check out Christo's own website at The BLM's draft environmental impact report worries that the construction — involving cables and anchors dug into the river's banks — might scare away bighorn sheep. The fabric could trap bats and birds of prey.

Public land is often beautiful, and there's is no shortage of business interests wanting to use it in destructive ways. As an example, environmentalists engage in endless battles to stop all-terrain vehicles from tearing up the land and terrifying wildlife. Art can be as big a threat as motorized machines.

During the 1970s, publisher Walter Annenberg tried to chop off a piece of Central Park for an arts center bearing his name. City officials put up a fuss, and he huffed off with his $40 million, vowing to put the center in another city.

(Birmingham, Ala., California's Orange County, Atlanta and Memphis, Tenn., are now building major city parks. Each will need its own park conservancy to protect these urban oases from commercial invasion.)

Christo's Colorado supporters include some tourism-related businesses and drilling contractors. The project, expected to draw over 300,000 visitors and $121 million in economic activity, could be good for their bottom line.

And of course members of the local art scene want some of the Christo fairy dust to fall on them. Christo starts most every Colorado trip with a reception in a sparkly Denver venue, where he sells his drawings for from $50,000 (for something little) to more than $1 million.

While "Over the River" would bring tourists and money to the area, it would create a measly 313 temporary jobs, according to the BLM draft report. Many locals are dreading the specter of both a three-year construction project and 300,000 tourists clogging their two-lane roads.

Christo says that he and his late wife chose this stretch of the Arkansas River because they liked the way it curved through narrow rocky walls and then widened into a grassy valley. Well, the people of southern Colorado like it, too.

"I couldn't care less about Christo's artistic vision," Dan Ainsworth, head of the Rags group, told the reporter. There's no reason why he, or anyone else, should.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
I would have agreed with you if I hadn't happened to see one of Christo's installations on my way to somewhere else. It was amazing. Prior to seeing it, I'd thought he was an idiot, but the sight of the Umbrellas north of Los Angeles was oddly moving.

One thing you didn't mention is how long the installation would be in place. As far as I know, all his projects are temporary. The umbrellas only stayed for eighteen days.

That being said, if a majority of the people in the area don't want it, I'd tend to think he'd do better to do something else.
Comment: #1
Posted by:
Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:11 AM
I love your work. You are a great addition to our Bakersfield, California newspaper. However, I need to comment on the Christo business. My whole family became entranced by the Umbrellas installation south of Bakersfield on I-5. Not only did it work to improve the local economy (through tourism, etc.), it was absolutely gorgeous. And I think it gave some status to our community. I no longer see the golden hills south of us as day a barren; in my mind's eye, I also see the unbrellas glistening in the sun
P.S. We are also active in Sierra Club, "dedicated environmentalists," you might say. My typing is so grey on my computer page that I can barely proof it. Sorry for any unfortunate typos.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Marjorie Bell
Wed Sep 15, 2010 9:02 AM

For decades, the imaginative and inspiring work of Christo and his late partner Jeanne-Claude have invited us all to reexamine our surroundings, our connection to nature, and our thoughts about contemporary art. Whether wrapped or draped, adorned or coaxed from the image-saturated 21st century, their installations remind us that art is not only what is on display in a gallery but is that which surrounds us and is found in an inexhaustible number of forms.

By taking art out of the gallery space, painters, sculptors, photographers, and performance artists have sought to democratize it in a way so that its audience would be more diverse and hopefully less intimidated by the experience. The materials they used also broke from tradition and academic constraints; this was done to release it from the confines of western history and its vise-like grip on what could be considered art and opened the eyes of its creators and viewers to limitless possibilities. Although you might have intended to challenge the idea of art, by describing the project as “ ‘art,' ” you challenge the notion of what is and isn't art and continue the achievements of these artists. Brava!

I was first introduced to Christo and Jeanne-Claude through a documentary about their mid-1970's project in California entitled “Running Fence.” The 24-mile long curtain of white caught the wind and sunlight and created a wending form atop peaks and into valleys and ended in the Pacific Ocean as it rode the waves. The work was available for anyone to visit and watch before it was dismantled, but the drawings, photos, and even the fabric has remained to tell of the tale of its inception, formation, and dispersal. Those who visited the fence once or encountered it each day experienced it in a way that could not be confined to a museum experience – it was as if the museum was their land, their town, and their piece of the world. “Running Fence” offered them the chance to see their environment anew and allow their small patch of earth to be transformed.

The filmmakers included scenes of people expressing their disinterest in the project, mistrust of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's proposal and concerns over its environmental impact as well as the drawn-out discussions and votes in public zoning meetings. Christo acknowledged their concerns and informed them that they were all part of the art-making process. I congratulate you for taking part in the “Over the River” art project you accosted with such vehemence. You and the supporters of Rags Over the Arkansas River are welcome to be part of Christo's artistic vision for southern Colorado, and I hope that each enjoys the unique opportunity.

This was and continues to be an innovative concept for art lovers and museumgoers. As Novalis wrote, “The true reader must be an extension of the author,” and this is illustrated by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work most emphatically. The viewer's experience with the artistic expression is not hampered by a stanchion or frowning guard and is not constricted by a frame or fixed installation. Instead, the viewer is drawn into its space and invited to explore and more importantly encouraged to relate to it in a holistic manner. This cannot be achieved by observing a two-dimensional or three-dimensional object in a gallery.

As an art historian who teaches about contemporary art, I show the documentary about “Running Fence” every chance I get. It opens up incredibly lively discussions about our reactions to art and the directions art-making has taken in the past 40 years. Late 20th and early 21st century art blurs the distinctions between art and theater, the visual and the auditory, the beloved and the despised. Ms. Harrop is quite right in describing Christo as a showman-artist because this is the role of any genius- he needs to convince both supporters and opponents of the spectacle that is to be revealed in his projects much in the opposite way that Wizard tells us not to look behind the curtain. Once a work is installed, it transforms the space, and time is suspended – Christo and Jeanne-Claude's wizardly powers are justifiably celebrated.

Other opponents raise concerns that the work will damage the environment it seeks to celebrate. Have they talked to those in other municipalities who have had what Harrop refers to as “Christo fairy dust” fall on them? According to the artists' website, “[T]he sites are restored to their original condition and most materials are recycled. Except in Florida, for the Surrounded Islands. That site was luckily not restored to its original condition. Christo and Jeanne-Claude's workers removed, before the project, at Christo and Jeanne-Claude's expense, 40 tons of garbage from the eleven Islands (one of the islands was called "beer cans island" – of course the garbage was not restored to the Islands!) See for more responses to misconceptions about their work and it effects. Also, if you read Erica R. Hendry's article in the June 2010 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, you will appreciate the magic of that fairy dust associated with “Running Fence” and wish for it to be sprinkled more liberally. (

If southern Colorado is not eager to welcome tourists, their dollars and what Harrop described as “a measly 313 temporary jobs,” I invite Mr. Javacheff to consider western New York as the venue for his next project. We have Niagara Falls, the Niagara River, Buffalo River, among many other wondrous spaces. We welcome tourists and their hard-earned money, and we would respond favorably to an influx of job opportunities as well as that magic.

Yvonne K. Widenor
Adjunct Professor, Canisius College
Buffalo, NY
Comment: #3
Posted by: Yvonne Widenor
Thu Sep 30, 2010 9:13 AM
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