March 30, 2010 - Smithsonian American Art Museum - Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence
March 30, 2010

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76
© Christo
Color photograph by Jeanne-Claude, 1976
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude:
Remembering the Running Fence
April 2 – September 26, 2010

Eighth and F streets N.W.
Washington, D.C.

americanart.si.edu/runningfence

The most lyrical of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s epic projects was the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76. The ambitious scope and enormous size of this monumental temporary artwork are hard to imagine even today. The exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence captures the elaborate process of planning the work and the magnitude of its scale. It is organized by George Gurney, the museum’s deputy chief curator.

Running Fence, the culmination of 42 months of collaborative efforts, was 24 1/2 miles long and 18 feet high, with one end dropping into the Pacific Ocean. The artwork was made of 240,000 square yards of heavy woven white nylon fabric, 90 miles of steel cable, 2,050 steel poles, 350,000 hooks and 13,000 earth anchors. Paid for entirely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the completed Running Fence existed for only two weeks in September 1976. It survives today as a memory and through the artwork and documentation by the artists. In 2008 the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired the definitive record of Running Fence, which includes drawings, collages, photographs and documents. It is the first and only major Christo and Jeanne-Claude project archive acquired by a museum.

“Seeing the Running Fence was a transformative experience,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director. “It was a fence that didn’t divide people but instead brought them together. The exhibition, the book, and the related films recapture the excitement that still lives in the memories of those who saw the Running Fence 34 years ago, and they reintroduce the work to a new generation.”

The collective archive of artworks and related materials includes more than 350 individual items, the majority of which are presented in the exhibition. There are 46 original preparatory drawings and collages by Christo on display, including eight masterful, large-scale drawings, each 8 feet wide, and a 58-foot-long scale model. More than 240 photographs by Wolfgang Volz, Gianfranco Gorgoni and Harry Shunk reveal the complex process of constructing the Running Fence and the many personalities involved with the project. A sequence of 22-foot-wide high-definition images of Running Fence will be projected at the exhibition entrance to convey to visitors the breadth and scale of the completed project. The exhibition also includes components from the actual project, including a nylon fabric panel and steel pole.

The museum has commissioned a new film, The “Running Fence” Revisited, created for the exhibition by Wolfram Hissen of estWest Films, who has documented many other projects by the artists during the past 20 years. It will debut at a special screening April 2, and will be shown regularly in the exhibition galleries with “Running Fence” (1978), a film by the legendary American filmmakers Albert and David Maysles with Charlotte Zwerin, and “Running Fence” with Commentary (2004, Plexifilm).

Christo and Jeanne-Claude faced seemingly insurmountable challenges from 1972 when Running Fence was first conceived until 1976 when it was completed. In addition to negotiating land rights with 59 ranchers, the artists grappled with bureaucratic hurdles at a time when the artists had no fame to pave the way. Christo and Jeanne-Claude convinced ordinary Americans of the transformative power of art.

Jeanne-Claude was deeply involved in all aspects of the exhibition before her sudden death November 18, 2009. The exhibition catalogue and commissioned film are dedicated to her memory.

Publication
The accompanying book, co-published by the museum and University of California Press, is written by Brian O’Doherty, artist and writer, with contributions from Broun; Ed Anderson, an attorney who represented the artists in the 1970s; and a foreword by Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. It will be for sale in the museum’s store and online.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

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