By Greg Felt and Ellen Bauder
In 1992, Christo Javacheff had a vision. In it, he saw translucent polypropylene fabric panels suspended above a river as it flowed through a spectacular Western landscape. Studying maps, he considered several potential locations before settling on the Bighorn Sheep Canyon of the Arkansas. There he found soaring canyon walls and a well-watered river, a corridor with highway access on one side and a railroad on the other, towns at both ends that embraced a future in the arts, and a proximity to population centers and airports. With the wide following and notoriety generated by his previous projects, Mr. Javacheff took his vision to the street, sharing it with politicians and bureaucrats, art world luminaries, local boosters … anyone who would listen. He painted a picture of a “whimsical” and “temporary” work of art, an exhibition that would connect people with nature. And when asked by the curious about impacts to the environment, he denied that there would be any. “We leave our sites in better condition than we found them” became the project’s mantra. For those who’ve only heard the vision, it sounds great. But where the vision ends and reality begins, it’s a whole different story.