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The Running Fence (1972-1976) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Running Fence

Running Fence (Project for Sonoma and Marin Counties, California) 1975, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, pencil, fabric, staples, pastel, charcoal, wax crayon, black and white photograph, technical data, tape on paperboard, 22 x 28 in. (55.9 x 71.1 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

In 2008, the Smithsonian American Art Museum announced it was acquiring Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition, the definitive record of the major early work by world-renowned artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The most lyrical and spectacular of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's epic projects was the installation of the Running Fence, a white-fabric and steel-pole fence, 24 1/2 miles long and 18 feet high, across the properties of rural landowners in Sonoma and Marin counties north of San Francisco. The Running Fence existed for only two weeks; it survives today as a memory and through the artworks and documentation by the artists.

The collective archive of artworks and research material acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum includes more than 350 individual items. With this acquisition, the museum has obtained nearly 50 original preparatory works by Christo, including 11 masterful large-scale drawings - each eight feet wide - and 35 additional drawings and collages he made in preparation for the final installation. The archive also includes a 58-foot-long scale model; more than 240 documentary photographs by Wolfgang Volz, Gianfranco Gorgoni, and Harry Shunk in color and black-and-white; a film by the critically acclaimed filmmakers David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, and Albert Maysles; documents; 324 color slides; original components, including one of the 2,050 nylon fabric panels; a 21-foot steel pole, 3 1/2 inches in diameter, with steel cables and guy wires; one of the 13,000 specially designed anchors; and a few of the 350,000 hanging hooks.

Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition is the first major Christo and Jeanne-Claude complete project archive to be acquired by a museum.

The Running Fence is considered one of the most important early public art projects, and when it was installed in 1976, it was the most ambitious work undertaken by Christo and Jeanne-Claude since their 1964 arrival in the United States. When it was unveiled during America's bicentennial, it captured the public's imagination. The sheer beauty of the light and weather playing across the fabric of the fence stood in sharp contrast to the underlying issue of division and limitations that fences generally convey. For Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the fence embodied larger issues of human freedom and constraint. The planning, design, installation, and critical response to the Running Fence set the tone for each of their subsequent major public projects. None would have been imaginable without it.

From 1972 when the Running Fence was first conceived until 1976 when it was completed, Christo and Jeanne-Claude faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. In addition to negotiating land rights with 59 ranchers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude 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.

This acquisition was featured in the museum's 2010 exhibition and book Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence.


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