Internationally known artist Christo on Wednesday canceled Over the River, his decades long quest to drape the Arkansas River in luminous silver fabric, telling the New York Times he would have no part in benefiting the new landlord: President Donald Trump.
"I use my own money and my own work and my own plans because I like to be totally free," he told the Times. "And here now, the federal government is our landlord. They own the land. I can't do a project that benefits this landlord."
Asked to elaborate on his opposition to Trump, Christo told The Times, "The decision speaks for itself. ... My decision process was that, like many others, I never believed that Trump would be elected."
In his statement posted on a website for the project, Christo, 81, did not say he was canceling Over the River because of Trump.
"After pursuing Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, for 20 years and going through five years of legal arguments, I no longer wish to wait on the outcome," he said in his statement, adding he intended to focus "my energy, time and resources" on another project in Abu Dhabi.
That project - called The Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - was something he conceived with his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude 40 years ago. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009.
After canvassing 14,000 miles of the Rocky Mountains, Christo, his wife and their team of artists chose the Arkansas River as the site of an art project. Doug Shane of the Fremont County Tourism Council told The Denver Post in 2012 that the selection was "like winning the lottery."
Over the River was expected to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people during a 14-day exhibit and was projected to generate more than $100 million for Colorado.
The project called for eight sections of fabric panels to be suspended in intervals along 42 miles of the river between Cañon City and Salida. It would have taken two years to install and was to be on display for two weeks before being taken down, like all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects.
Despite the excitement, the project - first proposed in 1996 - faced long legal battles because opponents said it could hurt or have a negative impact on wildlife, the river, residents and Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
Born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff in communist Bulgaria, Christo and his wife became prominent in the arts world for their large-scale outdoor projects, including wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont-Neuf Bridge in Paris, the miles long Running Fence in Northern California and The Gates, the series of vinyl gates through Central Park in New York.
Christo has reportedly poured $15 million of his own money into planning "Over the River." In the Times interview, he said he would not have continued with the project even if he overcame his legal battles.
The group that has opposed the project, Rags Over The Arkansas River, was elated about Christo's decision to back away.
"In some ways, the project has been so ill fated in terms of what Christo was proposing to do," Joan Anzelmo, spokesperson for the all-volunteer, grassroots group, told The Cañon City Daily Record. "He was spinning an awful line of hypothetical that people couldn't get their minds around, and we felt in the long run that he really never was going to construct this destructive project."
ROAR had challenged the Bureau of Land Management's approval of Christo's project in 2011, claiming the BLM had violated federal laws and its own policies in doing so.
In his statement, Christo said that his time pursuing the project was not wasted.
"I have been fortunate to work with many dedicated Colorado residents as well as federal and state agencies who have been a part of Over The River," he said. "I am grateful to everyone who was part of this journey."
Colorado state Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican, supported the project for the economic benefits it promised. On Wednesday, he was philosophical about Christo's decision.
"It's unfortunate that we won't be seeing the potential economic benefits of this project in future years, but it's also a relief to have the issue behind us," Grantham said. "I wish Christo well in his other endeavors."
The Gazette's Dan Njegomir and The Associated Press contributed to this report.