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Giant floating art lets people walk on water across an Italian lake

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Wolfgang Volz, © 2016 Christo

Bright-orange fabric connects over 200,000 floating cubes to create a triangular dock on the coast of Italy. The walkable artwork, the latest from Christo, connects two points on the coast of Lake Iseo. It proceeds across a village then extends back onto the water, where it merges at an angle and encompasses a small island in a perfect, golden square.

It’s been over a decade since the 81-year-old artist’s last major public work. The Gates, a collection of tall, rich-orange gates, which charted a path through Central Park in the winter of 2005, was one of many collaborations with his late wife, Jeanne-Claude. She passed in 2009 from complications of a brain aneurysm.

Jeanne-Claude famously spoke on behalf of the couple, explaining projects that couldn’t quite be explained. Like Valley Curtain, a 400-meter band of orange cloth that the duo stretched across a Rocky Mountain valley. Or the $26 million Umbrellas project, which planted over 3,000 large umbrellas into fields in California and Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture. In 1995, six years after the Berlin wall came down, Christo and Jean-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in, of course, fabric.

Wolfgang Volz, © 2016 Christo

I had an opportunity to attend one of the artists’ lectures in New York on the eve of The Gates. Jeanne-Claude, with glowing red hair, spoke with a tone that was both stern and funny, fast but thoughtful. She covered her and her partner’s oeuvre in minutes, and then sped through inspirations and anecdotes and future works. Christo sat alongside her the whole time, grinning and nodding. Their mutual look of admiration and contentment — artists fulfilled in both love and craft — has stuck with me ever since as an aspirational ideal.

Other than a comparably small project in 2013 — a big balloon in a big warehouse — Christo’s work has been preparatory; these projects do take time. But now, with The Floating Piers now open, Christo continues their work. And it still very much is theirs. On their website, Christo and Jeanne-Claude portray this creation not as a new beginning, but as a continuation of something beautiful.

Wolfgang Volz, © 2016 Christo