PILZONE, Italy — It was a long-held dream, but finally, this week, the conceptual artist Christo walked on water.
On Thursday, he tried out his latest project, “The Floating Piers,” a walkway stretching three kilometers, or nearly two miles, that connects two small islands in Lake Iseo, in Italy’s Lombardy region, to each other and to the mainland.
“It’s actually very painterly, like an abstract painting, but it will change all the time,” Christo, 81, a Bulgarian-born American, said of his project.
“The Floating Piers” is his first outdoor installation since 2005, when he and Jeanne-Claude, his collaborator and wife, installed 7,500 saffron-paneled gates in Central Park in New York City. Like his other environmental artworks, which try to reframe familiar landscapes, the 15 million euro project (or $16.8 million), will be funded through the sale of his original drawings and collages.
“I think this is a record in the history of Christo’s special projects because he and the team realized it in 22 months; normally it takes decades,” the curator Germano Celant, the project’s director, said. “So I will say that it’s an Italian and American miracle at the same time.”
Walking on the floating pier, as I discovered, is akin to being on a lightly rocking boat, without feeling wary about suddenly toppling over should a strong wave arrive. Shoes are optional, and it’s probably worth taking them off, at least for a moment, to feel the fabric’s texture. (There is a layer of felt beneath the saffron cover.) When wet, the walkway is a little squishy; when sunny, it should feel warm to the toes.
Getting the walkway to both gently undulate and remain securely affixed to the uneven lake bottom was a feat that has occupied engineers, construction companies, French deep-sea divers and even a team of Bulgarian athletes drafted over the past two years. The walkway is assembled from 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes that form its 16-meter-wide (53 feet) spine, covered this week with a waterproof and stain-resistant fabric made by a German company for the project.
“Each project is like a slice of our lives,” Christo said, “and part of something that I will never forget.”