If approved, Christo’s “Over the River” project will be a two-week temporary work of art that will consist of 5.9 miles of silvery, luminous fabric panels suspended high above the Arkansas between Salida and Canon City.
Supporters promise the installation will draw international attention and visitor revenue to the Pikes Peak region. Entirely funded by the artist, the project could cost as much as $40 million.
Critics say that it’s not just a waste of money, but a potential environmental disaster that will bring the region no lasting benefit.
Could we do better? Could Colorado Springs artists create something luminous and lasting that would grace the city for many years to come?
The Business Journal gave several local artists and one architectural firm a weekend to come up with a project. Offering a $10 million budget, ours was a simple RFP:
“Design a project or a work of art that will draw attention to the city, enhance the lives of visitors and residents, and become an iconic part of the city’s built landscape.”
Submissions ranged from the visionary to the prosaic, from fully imagined projects that their creators have long pondered to a haunting preliminary sketch. Four are deeply serious, and one is seriously lighthearted.
Artists Bill Burgess and Chris Weed are used to working in scale. With architect David Barber, Burgess designed the Julie Penrose Fountain, while Chris Weed’s super-sized red paperclips have come to symbolize downtown Colorado Springs.
“Creating art for the masses has long been my goal as a public artist,” Weed said.
To dot the landscape with 200 8-foot to 10-foot diameter steel sculptures with spikes.
“The installation would be larger than life, stretching as far as the eye can see,” he said. “The goal is to create thought-provoking art that would make us forget about our mundane lives, if only for a brief moment.”
In a photomontage, the huge spiked metal balls rest peacefully on an extensive prairie landscape – south of the airport, perhaps?
First conceived nine years ago after the 9/11 attacks, Burgess sees it as both a memorial and as a place of contemplation.
Placed in an open field approximately 1,000 yards in diameter, Burgess envisions a vast circle of angled and heated glass mirrors set at 45 degrees into the earth.
“The viewer would see green grass (or snow) both below and above the reflected sky,” Burgess said “In the center of this huge circle (hundreds of yards away) would be a viewing center. People there would be looking down into the earth and seeing infinity.”
Burgess’s sketch shows a graceful center tower, accessed by an underground passage. It’s in the tradition of American memorial art, from the Washington Monument to the Will Rogers Shrine. Like Weed’s field of dreams, it would require hundreds of acres of open space to realize.
Like Daniel Leibeskind’s famed back-of-the-napkin sketch of the Denver Art Museum, artist Marcia Hefti’s drawing is spare and evocative. It’s a war memorial dedicated to all those who have perished in recent wars.
“It’s more than 100 feet long and two stories tall,” she wrote describing the project. “It will be made of reinforced concrete, pieces of military equipment, and found objects.
“It is a colossal freestanding wall-like concrete structure of protruding and receding concrete blocks and panels reminiscent of the modernistic/cubistic style between the two World Wars. A variety of surface textures express physical attributes such as rows of buildings or scenery. Bas-relief figures tell the story.”
“While the theme of the of this work may be war,” she added, “it is just as much, or more, about transcending the ravages of war – about meeting and understanding, hope and spiritual bonding.”
In a poke at the perpetual failure of manufactured “arts districts” in Colorado Springs, artist Atomic Elroy proposed building a mandatory live/work arts residence in downtown.
All residents “who exhibit any type of creative behavior” would be forced relocate into Arthaus, a near-exact reproduction of Walter Gropius’ 1925 Bauhaus.
Rather than undergo a “re-education program to rehabilitate them into normal society, the artists would be allowed to continue their creative endeavors with 75 percent of all revenue generated by art and ticket sales returned to the city.”
RTA Architects had a dream as well – one inspired by the “Dream City” project.
“As architects, we would create something long-lasting, not transitory, to regenerate and redevelop underused properties and neighborhoods,” said RTA’s Amy Fortier. “A community garden, xeriscape park, sculpture garden and farmers’ market. The image applies these concepts to the decommissioned Ivywild Elementary School.”
Are these submissions equal in artistic quality to “Over the River?”
That’s not our call, but such visions can’t be realized without sustained, serious community efforts. We’ve built fountains, memorials and splendid buildings that have endured for a century or more – perhaps we can build yet another.