Umbrella Project Gets Mixed Response

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

CHRISTO, the wrap-artist who is using California landscape as part of his latest canvas, is winning kudos here for a different kind of artfulness: environmental responsibility."From day one, four years ago, he has done everything imaginable to insure his comings and goings here will not abuse the area," says Allene Zanger, counsel for the Tejon Ranch Company. Most of the 1,760, 20 ft. yellow umbrellas - unveiled tomorrow as "The Umbrellas; Joint Project for Japan and USA dot gently rolling hills owned by the ranch 50 miles north of Los Angeles. Opened along a 19-mile stretch of rugged terrain here simultaneously with 1,340 blue umbrellas in a rural area north of Tokyo, the joi nt exhibit will be on view for three weeks. When the Bulgarian-born artist first asked permission to use the ranch in 1987, Ms. Zanger, a former environmental lawyer, called the sponsoring agencies of Christo's other major projects. Without exception those who had collaborated elsewhere - on a 25-mile fence of nylon in Northern California and rings of pink fabric around nine islands off Miami - offered no reservations, she says. "Our questions had been only with his methods, not his art," recalls Zanger. "Since then we have become his fans." Besides footing the bills for insurance to cover visitors, Christo signed several easement contracts agreeing not to interfere with agriculture and animals, not to grade land or disturb grasses, and to use only existing roads. Seventy percent of the nearly 448-pound umbrellas were delivered by helicopter. To ensure that his most ambitious project to date will not be an imposition on the stretch of ranches, small towns, and truck stops, Christo has taken several measures: He's paid $220,000 to the local California Highway Patrol to triple the normal complement of officers; given stipends to the local sheriff's department for extra staff; and purchased no-parking signs for local businesses and larger signs directing viewers to designated viewing areas. Christo has also posted bonds to insure that the removal of his umbrellas will leave no lasting blight on the landscape. Nontheless, interviews with residents along the 19-mile site reveal wariness about allowing their community to play outdoor museum to someone else's artwork. "We think he's a real artist, but we are outraged by the prospect of traffic," says Frank Bruff, a local retiree in nearby Dijier Canyon. The flow of cars past the exhibit is expected to be between two and seven times the normal 1.1 million. Caltrans authorities say they will utilize electronic signs to steer traffic clear of the area. But Mr. Bruff and several other residents have argued that congestion and tourists will rob the area of anything added by the bright umbrellas - and will pose a fire hazar d at the end of dry season. They grouse about having to apply for special stickers to access their homes. "If he's got $200 million to burn, why not give it to the hungry?" asks Bruff.

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