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Christo throws in towel on massive Arkansas River art project

Author: Ernest Luning - January 25, 2017 - Updated: January 26, 2017

An artist's sketch of Christo's proposed "Over the River" project for the Arkansas River in Colorado. (Courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude)
An artist’s sketch of Christo’s proposed “Over the River” project for the Arkansas River in Colorado. (Courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude)

Internationally renowned environmental artist Christo said Wednesday he was pulling the plug on “Over the River,” a proposed project to hang 5.9 miles of luminous fabric along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in central Colorado, saying he no longer wanted to work with the U.S. government as his “landlord” for the installation.

The controversial project, first conceived in 1992 by Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, would have been in place between Cañon City and Salida for two weeks at a cost to the artist of more than $50 million. (Christo sells sketches and renditions of his installations to finance them.)

He won final approval from the federal government in 2011 but was battling a lawsuit challenging the project on environmental grounds in a federal appeals court.

But in an interview Tuesday with The New York Times, the 81-year old, Bulgarian-born artist said he was no longer interested in proceeding with the endeavor.

“I came from a Communist country,” he told the paper. “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.”

Environmental activist Gary Wockner of Fort Collins hailed the news, using a pejorative nickname for the project in an email to reporters. “Trump has done one good thing, so far! Great news — Christo cancels RAGS Over The Arkansas!” Wockner wrote.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.