Although the enthusiasm for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Floating Piers has dampened a little with many frustrated visitors unable to board the 2-mile runway due to bad weather, the Bulgarian artist’s latest work is being heralded as one of the must-see shows of the summer. Many of the most vocal supporters are the owners of local businesses who can expect a major financial boost from the influx of around 600,000 visitors—already orange-peel covered “Christo cookies” and Christo tours are popping up in the medieval villages surrounding Lake Iseo.
Like all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, Floating Piers had a painful inception, with the artists forced to abandon similar plans in Argentina and then in Japan because of permit issues. It seems a shame that their chosen location is in the affluent environs of Lake Iseo—surrounded by plush hotels and Michelin-star restaurants—instead of in the less-opulent location of River Plate when they first envisaged the project back in 1970. But this decision seems to have come down more to convenience more than anything else, with the Italians willing to allow the aquatic walkways without handrails. Italy is, according to the artist, “the only country in the world where art and culture is part of the constitution.”
But the shimmering gold colored walkways are in no way intended to send out a message to the wealthy residents of the Lake Iseo, or comment on the fact that the encircled island’s only occupants are the rich ancestors from the Beretta family—the world’s oldest arms dealers. Christo has “no time to think about what is wrong. I like to do my gratuitous, absolutely not necessary, irrational and useless works of art.” His work is for the people, those who “in reality have nothing to do with the art world. Many people here have never been probably in a museum. They want to be present at something that happens once in a lifetime and never again.”
In the 1950s Christo managed to bribe his way out of Bulgaria and into Austria. He ended up a political refugee living in Paris, making his money from washing dishes and painting portraits. He first started wrapping objects in the late 50s, each project growing in ambition and scale, culminating in the high-profile Wrapped Reichstag in 1994. Much of the staggering costs of the projects comes from selling his original prints, Floating Piers alone cost $17 million to realize. Yet these prints are also an astonishing connection between the artist’s grand designs and their first inception—that first thrilling rush of inspiration.
On the 3rd of July the whole work on Lake Iseo will be dismantled, having stayed open for just three weeks. Part of the beauty of the work is how quickly it disappears again, the long expanse of 220,000 plastic cubes and the same number of matching screws packed away as if it were never there. But the piece will live long in the memory of the residents and the visitors who got to visit this extraordinary feat of perseverance that was 30 years in the making. As the artist states: “All these works, they are total freedom. Nobody can buy them, nobody can own them, nobody can sell tickets.” Much to the delight of the hotels, restaurants and cookie makers around Lake Iseo.
The Floating Piers began on the 18th of June and will run through to the 3rd of July, 2016