Christo Walks on Water With New Italian Installation
By Manuela Mesco
For four decades, Christo, the artist famous for wrapping monuments such as the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf in Paris in shining fabrics, dreamed of making people “walk on water.” Attempts to secure authorization for his installation of floating piers on lakes in countries from Japan to Argentina all failed.
Christo will finally realize his dream in Italy this summer, when 220,000 polyethylene cubes draped in yellow fabric create part of a 3.4-mile-long walkway on Lake Iseo and its banks.
The 81-year-old Bulgarian-born artist and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, his collaborator for five decades, had searched for the perfect site for “The Floating Piers” since first imagining the work in the 1970s. The couple wanted “a place with tranquil waters, but where people live, too,” he said.
It was only after his wife’s death, in 2009, that Christo began considering Lake Iseo, a hidden jewel among the lakes of northern Italy.
The key to making the project—Christo’s first since Jeanne-Claude’s death—a reality was a tiny island that belongs to the Beretta family, owners of the 490-year-old Italian maker of guns and hunting rifles.
About 1.2 miles off the coast of Sulzano and just below the larger island of Monte Isola, San Paolo has been home to monks and naval troops and served as a meeting place for scientists, diplomats and artists. In 1916, the Berettas bought island to use as a summer residence.
With everything from food to furniture having to be brought by boat, the logistics of life on the 262-foot-wide island aren’t always easy to navigate. “If I wanted a newspaper in the morning, I needed to jump on a boat and go to the other island to get it,” said Umberta Gnutti Beretta, whose husband, Franco, now runs the family business. Though other members of the family still go to San Paolo on vacation in the summer, the island has mostly been used by the couple for dinners and parties.
On the morning of June 16, the unfurling of the shimmering yellow fabric on the piers and pedestrian streets in Sulzano and Peschiera Maraglio was nearly completed. WOLFGANG VOLZ
On the morning of June 16, the unfurling of 1,000,000 square meters of shimmering yellow fabric on the piers and pedestrian streets in Sulzano ...
Assembly manager Frank Seltenheim, operations manager Vladimir Yavachev, Christo and chief engineer Vince Davenport discussed the final steps for a life-size test at Montecolino, Lake Iseo, Italy, in October 2015. WOLFGANG VOLZ
But when Ms. Beretta, an art enthusiast, heard in 2014 that Christo was pondering Lake Iseo as a location for one of his installations, she became enamored of the idea of turning San Paolo into a work of art. “When he showed us the sketch of the project, I didn’t think about all the complications it could bring,” she recalled. “I just loved it.”
The Berettas opened up their island to Christo, who has used it as one of the installation’s three landings. More importantly, they helped the artist obtain the necessary permits from local authorities, including renting the lake’s waters and redirecting its ferry traffic.
Opening June 18 and running for two weeks, “The Floating Piers” surround San Paolo and connect it to Monte Isola and Sulzano—a run normally accessible only by ferry. The pathway will allow visitors to walk to and around the islands, seeing the Berettas’ private island for the first time in years.
“The project is about direction,” said Christo. “I was impressed by the fact that some people who worked or lived on one of the islands were not able to move in other ways if not through boats. I wanted to give them the chance to walk.”
The Berettas have been renovating the family villa and gardens to ready the island for its starring moment. San Paolo will become “the center of a work of art, part of an artistic journey,” Mrs. Beretta said. “It’s a dream to see it surrounded by a work of art.”