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Running Fence, Project for Sonoma and Marin Counties, California

1976 Christo Born: Gabrovo, Bulgaria 1935 black-and-white photograph, charcoal, charcoal pencil, pastel, wax crayon and photocopied diagram on paper 22 1/8 x 28 1/8 x 1 1/8 in. (55.9 x 71.1 x 2.8 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Christo and Jeanne-Claude © 1976, Christo 2000.35.1 Not currently on view

New Acquisition Label

In 2008, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired 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, twenty-four- and-a-half miles long and eighteen 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 SAAM includes more than 350 individual items. With this acquisition, the museum has obtained nearly fifty original preparatory works by Christo, including eleven masterful large-scale drawings—each eight feet wide—and thirty-five additional drawings and collages he made in preparation for the final installation. The archive also includes a sixty-eight-foot-long scale model; more than 240 documentary photographs by Wolfgang Volz 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 twenty-one-foot steel pole, three and one-half 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 fifty-nine 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.

New Acquisitions


Landscape - California

Modern art movement - installation exterior - Running Fence

Study - installation study



crayon - pastel