Will Colorado’s loss be Abu Dhabi’s gain?
In a headline-grabbing statement announced yesterday, the Bulgarian-born artist Christo Javacheff called time on his 24-year-long attempt to create Over the River, the installation he devised with his wife and career-long collaborator Jean-Claude for a 42-mile-long stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida.
“After pursuing Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, for 20 years and going through 5 years of legal arguments, I no longer wish to wait on the outcome,” the 81-year-old artist claimed in an official statement.
“I have decided to devote all of my energy, time and resources into the realisation of The Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which Jeanne-Claude and I conceived 40 years ago.”
If Christo has his way The Mastaba, a 150 metre-tall, 300 metre-long monument made from 410,000 brightly-coloured barrels, will rise from the sands of the Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi’s Al Gharbia and the artist is said to have pencilled in 2020 as his ideal completion date.
The installation, which takes its name from the Arabic word for an ancient, bench-like tomb structure or pyramid, was first conceived by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1977. The artist is at pains to insist that the 250 litre barrels have no connection with the UAE’s oil industry.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have incorporated steel barrels in their work since 1962 when they temporarily blockaded a street with them as a protest against the construction of the Berlin Wall and the pair first started looking for possible locations in the UAE in 1979 when the artists made their first visit to the country.
Over the River, which has already cost US$15 million (Dh55) to develop, was an estimated $50m dollar project that involved suspending 5.9 miles of silvery luminous fabric panels above eight separate areas of the Arkansas River.
Like all of Christo’s major projects, such as his Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin in 1995, The Gates in New York’s Central Park in 2005 and his most recent installation, The Floating Piers, which transformed Italy’s Lake Iseo last year, Over the River was planned as a temporary public artwork.
The project, which would have been the largest installation undertaken in the US by Christo, had already been given the green light by US federal Bureau of Land Management but had been mired in legal battles thanks to protests by Rags Over the Arkansas River (Roar), a group environmentalists who claimed that the installation would endanger wildlife and cause environmental damage in the Bighorn Sheep Canyon, an area popular with hikers and whitewater rafters.
Now that the artist, a US citizen since 1973, has walked away from Over the River, his imminent trip to the Gulf takes on added significance.
On March 12 Christo is scheduled to speak about both Over the River and The Mastaba at the New York Times Art for Tomorrow event in Doha, Qatar and is also expected in the UAE later the same week, but given his recent comments it’s clear that the artist will now have only one project in mind.