he artist Christo, an inventor of grand projects, set out today to ring 11 Biscayne Bay islets with neon pink plastic tarps in what he called an "irresponsible, irrational, poetical gesture." But the south Florida weather--with responsibilities, rationalities and poetry of its own--executed a triumphant rival gesture.
Gray clouds, 15-knot gusts of wind, a 2-to-4-foot bay chop and, ultimately, a subtropical cloudburst brought the $3.1 million enterprise to an unwilling pause with one island surrounded but the other 10 far from finished.
Teams of an estimated 400 workers had moved out before dawn to unfurl the 6 million square feet of pink woven polypropylene fabric, specially imported from Stuttgart, West Germany. They were assigned to stretch it from anchors planted in the islands' beaches to octagonal plastic booms floating 200 feet offshore, creating stridently pink rings around the islands' rich green mangroves.
Wind gusting under the plastic repeatedly inflated it like balloons, however, and youths in the work crews fought to keep the material on the surface of the water.
By mid-morning, the Bulgarian-born Christo and his wife and partner, Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon, ordered the teams to wait for better weather. Work proceeded only fitfully through the rest of the day while boats and helicopters brought television cameras and curious onlookers close in for a look as Christo boated about the choppy bay.
The delay robbed the artist of the sudden drama a one-day operation would have created. Asked at day's end whether he was disappointed, he replied, "No, it's exciting."
The deployment marked the climax of a three-year campaign by the 47-year-old New York conceptual artist, during which he struggled through seven public hearings, 10 appeals for government permits, a court challenge by environmentalists and three separate experiments to see whether manatees could survive with all the plastic floating in Biscayne Bay.
Despite the controversy, Miami's leadership generally has welcomed the spectacle on the grounds it will bring high-toned media attention and perhaps more tourists to their city, most often written about as the setting for cocaine smuggling or gun-running. Moreover, the entire cost was borne by the artist, using a $700,000 private loan and proceeds from drawings and sketches sold to collectors.
Mayor Maurice Ferre called it "a major art project" that is "fantastic" for Miami. The Miami Herald today published a four-word editorial: "Go for it, Christo!"
After the unfurling is completed, probably Thursday or Friday, the islands will remain in the pink for two weeks for viewing from the shore, nearby bridges, passing boats and aircraft. Then, according to his contracts, Christo will take it all apart, clean up the islands and leave them as they have been since the U.S. Corps of Engineers created them 50 years ago with soil dredged in deepening the nearby Intracoastal Waterway.
"The luminous pink color of the shiny fabric will be in harmony with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited, verdant islands, the light of the Miami sky and the colors of the waters of the shallow Biscayne Bay," he said in a statement explaining the project. " 'Surrounded Islands' underlines the various elements and ways in which the people of Miami live, between land and water."
At another point in interviews with reporters who have come here from the United States, Europe and Japan to cover the project, Christo underlined the hot pink color as an expression of Miami's Latin personality.
"It is a temperament here that is unique in the United States," he said. "That color cannot possibly be made in Boston or another place in the North."
Use of polypropylene, however, is not new for Christo. A more moderately colored 150,000-square-foot version was spread over the Atlantic at Newport, R.I., in 1974. "Ocean Front," he called it then.
But for Javacheff Christo, the hubbub surrounding the project is actually part of the artwork, along with the finished product. He reportedly told a friend that the bringing together of two estranged brothers was among the most important results of the "Running Fence" project, in which he mounted an 18-foot cloth fence over 24 miles of rolling California hills in 1972.
For that reason, the artist works in tandem with his wife, the organizer. It is she who is closely involved in dealing with the City of Paris for a plan to wrap up the Pont Neuf over the River Seine, for example, or with the rulers of Abu Dhabi and East and West Germany for plans to do some wrapping in their territories as well.
"He does all the thinking, all the dreaming," said Willy Bongard, a friend who publishes a contemporary art newsletter in Cologne. "She just organizes. Just. I say just. Actually, it is a very important part of his work."