Artist drops $21m plan to drape Arkansas River because of Trump

Concept art (above) for the proposed installation by Christo to drape the Arkansas River with fabric, at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City, Colorado.
Concept art (above) for the proposed installation by Christo to drape the Arkansas River with fabric, at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City, Colorado. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Concept art for the proposed installation by Christo (above) to drape the Arkansas River with fabric, at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City, Colorado.
Concept art for the proposed installation by Christo (above) to drape the Arkansas River with fabric, at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City, Colorado.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • With one dramatic no, a major artist has just escalated the culture world's war against Donald Trump.

For more than 20 years, artist Christo has worked tirelessly and spent US$15 million (S$21 million) of his own money to create a vast public artwork in Colorado that would draw thousands of tourists and rival the ambition of The Gates - the saffron transformation of Central Park that made him and JeanneClaude, his collaborator and late wife, two of the most talked-about artists of their generation.

But Christo said this week that he had decided to walk away from the Colorado project - a silvery canopy suspended temporarily over 68km of the Arkansas River - because the terrain, federally owned, has a new landlord he refuses to have anything to do with: United States President Donald Trump.

His decision is by far the most visible - and costly - protest against the new administration from within the art world.

The Christo project, titled Over The River, has been fiercely opposed in state and federal court by a group of Coloradans who contend that it will endanger wildlife and cause other problems in Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

Almost 10km of fabric panels were to be erected over the river for a period of two weeks, at a total cost that could have exceeded US$50 million.

Christo, who sells artwork depicting his proposed projects to pay for them completely on his own, has prevailed in every court battle and is awaiting a decision by a federal appeals court that would represent a final stand by opponents.

But, in an interview on Tuesday, he said that, even if he won the case, he would no longer go forward with the work.

"I came from a Communist country," said Christo, 81, who was born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff in Bulgaria and moved to New York with Jeanne-Claude in 1964, becoming an American citizen in 1973.

"I use my own money and my own work and my own plans because I like to be totally free.

"And here now, the federal government is our landlord. They own the land. I can't do a project that benefits this landlord."

Asked on his views of Mr Trump, he said: "The decision speaks for itself." He added: "My decision process was that, like many others, I never believed that Trump would be elected."

He said the patience required in seeking approval for his projects has always been an element of the spirit of the projects themselves. He needs to feel passion about them, he added. But in this case, "that pleasure is gone" because of the nature of the new administration.

"I am not excited about the project anymore," he said. "Why should I spend more money on something I don't want to do?"

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Artist drops $21m plan to drape Arkansas River because of Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe