Drawing the Curtain on the Running Fence

Media - RF.3.228 - SAAM-RF.3.228_1 - 71525
Christo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Hangers-unfurlers fight with the wind, September 8-10, 1976, black and white photograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, R.RF.3.228, © 1976, Christo
September 24, 2010

"I hate to see the show go. It seems like yesterday that it opened. But when you think about it, the Fence was only up for two weeks!," George Gurney, deputy chief curator at American Art, told me last week when we were speaking about the closing of the exhibition, Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence. In its more than five-month run, we've come to know the artists and filmmakers, as well as some of the people who made the original installation possible in the 1970s. Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died shortly before the opening of the show at American Art) are believers in temporality. Their works are created to last for only a few weeks, then be removed. The experience stays in your mind's eye, had you been lucky enough to be in Sonoma or Marin counties in 1976. For the rest of us Remembering the Running Fence will have to do.

When the original work of art was created, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76 , many people were for the project, most notably the ranchers, while some were against, among them local artists. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to file an Environmental Impact Report, the first of its kind for a contemporary work of art. But as we know, there was no impact and the materials were not only recycled, the fabric and poles became collector's items. From a pretty sturdy wedding dress made from the fence fabric, to the flag pole at the Valley Ford, CA, post office, the objects involved in the installation began to take on a life of their own.

I bring this up now because a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, made it sound like it's 1972 all over again. Christo is facing some of the same obstacles in getting his new project off the ground as he and Jeanne-Claude faced nearly forty years ago. At forty-two miles long, the project Over the River would suspend 5.9 miles of silvery-fabric over the Arkansas River, and be twice as long as the Running Fence. Some locals are for it, and some are against. Hopefully, a group as determined as the California ranchers will have Christo's back.

The exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence closes this Sunday, September 26.


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