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February 21, 2005

Christo in Crawford? Texas Town in Knots over First Lady's Plan to 'Wrap the Ranch'

Christo_thumbFirst lady Laura Bush was reportedly so taken with "The Gates," the epic project installed in New York's Central Park by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, that she has asked the pair to consider Crawford, TX, as the site of their next installation. The idea: wrap the Bush's 1600 acre ranch in eight miles of camouflage fabric.

Some in Crawford say formerly down-home neighbor taking on 'big city' airs

By Russell D'Arby, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent

Christo_crawfordCRAWFORD, TX—When first lady Laura Bush traveled to New York last week to see the epic installation in Central Park known as "The Gates," she was reportedly so dazzled by the site of 7,500 brilliant saffron panels that she wanted a piece for herself. "She was just in awe," says a source close to the first lady. "Seeing such a monumental work of art really inspired her and made her want to replicate the project somewhere else."

Somewhere else turns out to be here in Crawford, TX, home to the Bush's 1600 acre ranch. Mrs. Bush's proposal: that Bulgarian-born Christo and his French wife Jeanne-Claude select the first family's favorite vacation spot as the site of their next engagement, swaddling the property in an estimated eight miles of camouflage fabric.

While Christo and Jeanne-Claude have yet to make an official announcement about the Crawford project, tentatively titled "The Ranch," they could begin work on the installation as early as September. This summer, the couple complete work on a project called "Over the River," for which they've draped silvery fabric over a seven-mile stretch of the Arkansas River. Once the sheer panels come down in mid-August, the artists are expected to make the trip from Colorado to Crawford.

Camouflage unusual for Christo

During more than forty years as conceptual artists, the husband and wife team has worked in a variety of media, swaddling statues, walls and monuments, including the Reichstag in Berlin with nylon, polyamide fabric and cotton drop cloths. In 1983, the 'wrappers' surrounded several islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay with pink woven polypropylene.

Christo_camo_1But despite the sheer volume of fabric with which Christo and Jeanne-Claude have worked—their "Surrounded Islands" project alone consumed 6.5 million square feet of pink cloth, there is one material with which they have never worked: camouflage cloth.

"This is going to be a real challenge for Christo," says Ian Chase-Forde, author of "The Bolt Heard 'Round the World: Fabricating the Future," a post-modern meditation on the artist born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff. "Christo obviously fled the Bulgarian dictatorship, and he and Jeanne-Claude are French in every sense of the word, meaning that they opposed your president and his little military adventure. Camouflage is an important metaphor for militarism and he'll have to come to terms with that."

The president vs. the artists

When Mrs. Bush strolled beneath the saffron-swathed gates in Central Park, her powerful husband was noticeably absent (the first lady's trip was personal rather than official in nature, reports the White House scheduling office). The president is said to be notoriously indifferent to modern art, and to conceptual art installations in particular. But he supports his wife's growing interest in matters of art and culture, says a source close to the family.

"He's obviously not thrilled about the idea that French artists are going to be swarming all over his favorite retreat, but his attitude is that if it makes Laura happy, he'll support it," says the associate, noting that while Mrs. Bush wanted to leave the choice of color for the ranch's new 'garb' up to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, it was the president who selected the military-themed fabric.

Crawford in knots
Christo_lauraNot everyone is pleased with the news that this tiny Texas town could soon play host to the biggest art makeover since the Alamo underwent its repair job in the 1990s. While New York stands to reap an estimated $80 million in proceeds thanks to the influx of visitors who swarmed Central Park to see "The Gates," diehard Texans would just as soon do without the cash—if it means being spared the presence of pretentious artists and the art denizens who follow them.

"It's crap if you ask me," says Crawford resident Mitch Denton. "If this guy can't think of anything better to do than come down here with his fabric, I'm happy to offer some suggestions." For the record, Mr. Denton did have some ideas for Christo's next project, but they are not printable in a family publication.

At the Coffee Station, Crawford's one and only restaurant, locals gathered here recently for chicken fried steak and chatter, mostly Christo-related. At one table, occupied by 63-year-old Sally Anne Greevey and her husband Duane, the judgment was swift and harsh. "I think she's putting on airs," says Mrs. Greevey, referring to the first lady. "When she left for Washington she was just a nice Texas girl, but all of a sudden she's wearing designer clothes and inviting modern art folk into our neck of the woods," she says, shaking her head. "It's a darn shame if you ask me."

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