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Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo
Culture wars.
ART WORLD VS. TRUMP

Artist Christo abandoned a 20-year, $15 million project because he wants nothing to do with Trump

By Anne Quito

After spending 20 years and $15 million on an ambitious new project in Colorado, contemporary art superstar Christo will give up before its completion—and he blames US president Donald Trump.

The 81-year old Bulgarian-born artist announced on his website yesterday that he would stop work on a colossal installation called Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado. The project involves suspending six miles of “silvery, luminous fabric panels” over a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas river, owned by the US federal government. Christo, who funded the project with his own money, has persevered through five legal battles over the project, with activists protesting the environmental toll from construction crews and thousands of tourists Christo’s work will attract.

But he says the election of US president Donald Trump—which would effectively make Trump the project’s landlord—has killed his spirit.

In an interview yesterday with the New York Times, Christo explained:

I came from a Communist country, 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.”

Christo became a naturalized US citizen in 1973.

Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo
Over The River (Project for Arkansas River, State of Colorado)

Though criticized by some environmentalists, Christo’s monumental, dreamlike installations attract crowds and tourism dollars. Last year’s Floating Piers in Brescia, Italy drew over 250,000 visitors in its first five days.

Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo

Conceived in 1992 with his late wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, the ephemeral installation was expected to take two years to install. Like his other installations, such as 2005’s The Gates in New York City, Christo intended to raise all the funds for Over the River by selling drawings and prints of his design. He says he has already spent millions on speculative environmental studies, permits, fundraising costs and legal fees over the years, and planned to raise $50 million more for the project.

The US Department of Interior granted approval for the project in 2011 after Christo funded an extensive environmental impact study to ascertain that the art project wouldn’t totally wreak havoc on the river and the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. But it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Christo’s decision to abandon the project came as he was awaiting the outcome of an appeal filed by activist group Rags Over the Arkansas River challenging a 2015 federal district court ruling that upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of Over The River.

Christo reportedly now plans to focus his all energy in building a monument in Abu Dhabi, that, when completed, promises to be the world’s largest sculpture.