If you happen to be in northern Italy in June, you’ll want to visit Lake Iseo, about seventy miles northeast from Milan. There you can see – and be part of – The Floating Piers.
The environmental artist Christo’s latest project is a two-mile walk on water. Yellow nylon fabric covering 200,000 floating cubes will create a fifty-foot-wide walkway over the lake. As with other Christo works, Floating Piers is a temporary installation, lasting sixteen days beginning June 18. According to the artist, “It will be… a bit like walking on a water bed.” After July 3, it will be removed, leaving no trace.
This will be Christo’s first installation since 2005, when The Gates brought vivid color to the gray winter landscape of Central Park. He has been out of the public eye since the death in 2009 of his collaborator, wife and muse, Jeanne-Claude.
Central Park’s 23 miles of paths were lined with 7,500 fabric panels hanging from metal frames, high enough to walk under. First proposed in 1979, Christo and Jeanne-Claude kept at it for twenty-five years, modifying the design, to meet the requirement of park authorities and city politicians. Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of the project, gave the final push after being elected mayor in 2001.
We arrived on a cold February evening for five days in New York City. The hotel was not far from Central Park, so I walked over to get a first glimpse of the project. In the lamp-lit night, the saffron-colored sheets shimmered as they moved with the breeze. We planned to satisfy our curiosity about The Gates during our first day, and then move on to the usual tourist sightseeing and shows and eating places. While New Yorkers argued about whether this was an ugly desecration of the park or a beautiful gift of art to the city, we became fascinated with the Gates and found ourselves back there each day, exploring different sections of the park. I’m glad I was there; it could be the coolest thing I’ve seen.
Forty years ago, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created excitement in northern California with their Running Fence. Eighteen-foot-high fabric rose out of the ocean near Bodega Bay and traversed twenty-four miles of the undulating landscape of Marin and Sonoma counties. Numerous public hearings, an Environmental Impact Report and appearances before the Superior Court preceded the installation. An artists group opposed the project because it was “aesthetically unclear.” Environmentalists said it would upset wildlife migration. Perhaps ironically, Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked hard to connect with and get support from the farmers and ranchers over whose land the fence would travel. They became friends and gave testimony to local politicians convincing them to approve the project. The people who were there remember the whole experience warmly. Running Fence is long gone, but you can still see the gift Christo left behind. Snoopy’s wrapped doghouse is on display in the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.
Christo, now in his eighties, has been working since 1992 for approval to go ahead with Over the River, a project on the Arkansas River in Colorado. The plan is to suspend nearly six miles of silver panels of fabric over the river in eight separate sections. Rafters and kayakers will see the work from below. Federal, state and local authorities have given their approval. Opponents have filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management in federal court and Colorado State Parks in state court. The latter has prevailed in the Colorado Court of Appeals. The BLM case is still in appeal in federal court. The project is stalled until the lawsuit is settled.
All the projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, with the exception of Snoopy’s doghouse, have been temporary, usually up only a couple weeks. The artists themselves have financed them all by sales of related artwork, with no public money used. (A framed poster of the artist’s rendering of The Gates hangs in our home.)
Artsy.net, the on-line resource for viewing, researching and purchasing artwork, has a Christo and Jeanne-Claude page featuring a biography, more than 25 of their works – 20 currently for sale – exclusive articles, and up-to-date exhibition listings. The page also includes related artists and categories, providing the opportunity to widen your artistic horizon.