Christo’s ‘Over the River’: An Act of Homage

36688_131741930182484_131695920187085_233280_1460286_n_jpg_470x552_q85Leo Steinberg in the NYRB blog:

When a Christo project sets out to engage a body of water, as in Surrounded Islands, some prognosticators inevitably foresee an assault upon peaceable, innocent nature. The work completed reveals, on the contrary, acts of homage secured in reverence and affection.

And so Over the River, Christo/Jeanne-Claude’s still fought-over bid to canopy portions of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Once again, we hear the project denounced as an imposition that would deny the river and its dependents access to quickening sunshine and rain; as if the instigators were out to crush whatever under the sun grows, flows, or draws breath. But many among us foresee the river’s planned canopy delivering a benign gesture.

From Christo’s explanations and explicit drawings of what is envisioned, I anticipate certain surprises, among them a welcome revision of the river’s deportment in three-dimensional space. A river tends to be seen and thought of along the horizontality of its stream—a level course which Christo’s parallel canopy seems to confirm. But that canopy—pitched only 8 feet above the water’s surface—is to be of a transparent cloth that keeps sky and cloud always in evidence, and with it (I hope) a sharpened awareness of living under pillars of air. To say nothing of the river’s own depth in unceasing play. In other words, I expect Over the River—more precisely the low thatch overhead—to impart a livelier sense of the river’s participation in verticality.

The word “thatch,” just used, confesses another association. That of roofing for protection from, say, “inclement” weather. Not that a river needs such solicitude; what threatens it is the insidious infusion of industrial waste. But Over the River is not out to indict a pollutant. Its metaphorical idiom is content to assert the immanence of a champion, a protective agent just now engaged in benediction.