Much smaller and with a more subtle appeal is Christo's beautiful 1971 scale model, made of painted and natural wood with polyester, cardboard, fabric and twine. This piece was the first three-dimensional expression of what at the time was a cutting-edge expression of conceptual art. Today, by virtue of its crude craftsmanship and its stale-chocolate-colored gloss paint, it has the naive charm of a whirligig.

Several of the DAM's smaller galleries feature selections of Christo's knock-out collages and drawings, which are characterized by a quick-sketch drawing method that sets scribbled images against more carefully rendered elements. In the 1972 drawing "Valley Curtain, Project for Colorado," Christo puts together his signature stylistic combo. The brown paper has been divided into a pencil grid, with technical data in text and numbers written in Christo's hand running at the top and bottom. The mountains and the greenery have been sketched in expressively, in contrast to the minimal handling of the curtain itself. Pieces like this set Christo apart, even if today the distinctiveness of his work on paper has been diminished by the sheer number of his imitators.

The forthcoming "Over the River" project has sparked a renewed local interest in Christo's work. And it's invigorating to recall in exquisite detail his still-wonderful-after-all-these-years extravaganza from the '70s. Other trends from that era have come and gone--and like disco come again--but Christo never goes out of style.

Interestingly, though they did not tour the Valley Curtain show, members of the Italian contingent to the Summit of the Eight did wind up at the Denver Art Museum, which was then closed to the public. Most notable among the visitors was Flavia Prodi, wife of Italian prime minister Romano Prodi. She and the other dignitaries took a walk through the as-yet-uncompleted sixth-floor rehab which is to open this fall. Leading the group was DAM European-art curator Timothy Standring--who made his comments in Italian, no less. Though the Italians were interested throughout the tour, they reserved their most enthusiastic remarks for DAM's notable pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art collections--precisely the kind of thing they couldn't see back home. Although Rome is the museum capital of the world, mate-rial from the Western hemisphere other than abstract painting is hard to find. According to DAM publicist Christine Genovese, shouts of "Bella!" and "Bellissima!" rang through the New World galleries.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-1972--A Documentation Exhibition, through September 14 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

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