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Students from the UAE were among visitors to Christo’s latest floating installation in Italy
Artist Christo with a group of students from the UAE at his installation The Floating Piers on Lake Iseo in Italy.
As the curious, double-decker barge approached the causeway, waves of applause and shouts of “bravo Christo", “bella" and “grazie Christo" erupted from crowds who stood, improbably, on the surface of Italy’s Lake Iseo.
They had come for The Floating Piers, Christo’s first major public installation since The Gates in 2005, when the artist and his ¬career-long collaborator – and wife – Jeanne-Claude, placed 7,503 saffron-coloured fabric panels in New York’s ¬Central Park.
Standing on the top deck of the barge, the diminutive 81-year-old acknowledged the public response to The Floating Piers humbly, like a reluctant sporting hero on a victory parade – but for the scrum of academics, students, publicists and journalists who witnessed the scene, the spontaneous outpourings of appreciation were as overwhelming as they were unexpected.
Here was a festive and distinctly non-art-world crowd – sunburnt holidaymakers, dog walkers, parents with small children, the elderly and the infirm – recognising the power of art in a manner more usually associated with a rock concert or major sporting event.
“We have created a space for people to go nowhere. They don’t come to go shopping or to see their friends – they come to go to nowhere," the ¬Bulgarian-born artist said with delight, revelling in the pulling power of his latest build-it-and-they-will-come creation.
See more: Christo and his special guests experience The Floating Piers installation in Italy – in pictures
“We don’t even charge people to come and see it. The Floating Piers is an extension of the street and belongs to ¬everyone."
Visible even to airline passengers flying 13,000 feet overhead, the artist’s installation stretched from the picturesque town of Sulzano on the eastern shore of Lake Iseo to the usually isolated Monte Isola, before reaching out to surround the minuscule Isola di San Paolo, a former monastery that is now owned by the arms-¬manufacturing Beretta family.
Constructed from 200,000 interconnected, air-filled, high-density polythene cubes, the three-kilometres of piers formed a sort of floating, temporary beach held in place by 190 concrete anchors, each weighing 5.5 tonnes, that were installed 90 metres below on the lake bed.
Installation of the piers began towards the end of last year and was completed just before the opening on June 18. A team of 60 skilled workers, including deepwater divers, wrapped the floating structure in 100,000 square metres of yellow, nylon fabric that then had to be stitched together on site using portable, battery-powered sewing machines.
“The most important thing is the island [Monte Isola]," Christo explained. “There is no lake anywhere in Europe where there are so many people living in such an incredible situation. It’s such a huge island, with a population of 2000 people and yet they have no bridge. They go everywhere by boat – but for 16 days they can walk on the water!"
The inhabitants of Monte Isola were not the only people to make the most of Christo’s shimmering saffron installation, which not only undulated with the waves but also changed colour in response to variations in humidity and light.
When The Floating Piers opened on June 18, 50,000 visitors a day flocked to see them – and as the 16 day installation neared its conclusion, the numbers rocketed.
By the final weekend, an estimated 4,000 pedestrians an hour were making their way along the five-and-a-half kilometres of lakeshore between Sulzano and Iseo, the nearest town, having ditched their cars to make the final stage of their art pilgrimage on foot.
To put things in perspective the 2012 London Olympics, which also ran for 16 days, is estimated to have attracted 590,000 visitors, but at a considerably higher cost than the €15 million (Dh61m) that was required for The Floating Piers, which was estimated to have attracted almost a million visitors by the time it closed on July 3.

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