Running Fence, Project for Sonoma and Marin Counties, State of California, 1976
Signed, dated and copiously inscribed 1
Pastel, charcoal, printed commercial topographical map, applied photocopy
Upper drawing: 15 x 96 in. (38.1 x 243.8 cm); lower drawing: 42 x 96 in. (106.7 x 243.8 cm)
Gift of Ruth C. Roush in honor of Ellen H. Johnson on the occasion of her retirement, 1977
This two-part drawing is a preliminary study for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's monumental Running Fence (1972-76), a fabric curtain twenty-four and one-half miles long and eighteen feet high that linked the northern California town of Cotati at Highway 101 to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. With a pastel and charcoal rendering, topographical map, and technical details for one site on the Fence, the Oberlin drawing documents the long-planned, short-lived project.
By far Christo and Jeanne-Claude's most complex and lyrical project up to that time, Running Fence was described by the artist as "a celebration of the landscape.... The fabric is a light-conductor for the sunlight, and it will give shape to the wind. It will go over the hills and into the sea, like a ribbon of light." 2
Conceived and financed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the project began in 1972 3 and was completed on 10 September 1976. It took forty-two months of collaborative effort, 240,000 yards of heavy woven white nylon fabric, ninety miles of steel cable, 2,050 poles embedded three feet into the ground, and 14,000 earth anchors. Deinstallation of all materials began two weeks after completion of the fence, and all materials were completely removed from the site and given to local ranchers. 4
Running Fence was a temporary intervention in the landscape and the social fabric of the area it traversed. Although the impulse to create environmental art on a grand scale was one shared with Earth artists such as Michael Heizer (b. 1944) and Walter de Maria (b. 1935), Christo and Jeanne-Claude differed from those artists in their desire to create art with social, legal, technical, economic, and political dimensions. The collaboration and cooperation of hundreds of people were necessary in order for Running Fence to be realized. The project called for negotiations with state and county government agencies to obtain planning and building permits, with groups of citizens who opposed the project, and with the farmers across whose land the fence would run. As Christo remarked, "I am absolutely sure that the project involves the subconscious of all these people who have never had any relations with art in a political state....The people who became engaged in the work of art are not spectators in front of it but are part of the process of making art." 5
Running Fence was also far more costly than any of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's previous projects. In December 1973, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, along with ninety-nine other arts groups and individuals, was offered an advance purchase contract that gave them the option to buy preliminary drawings for the project at a substantial discount. Approximately one-third of those approached responded positively, thus providing working capital and funds to cover project costs and allowing the venture to be self-financing. 6 Since the installation of Running Fence was temporary, these preliminary drawings, such as the Oberlin drawing, along with photographs, books, and a film, 7 are the only lasting documents of the project.
The Oberlin drawing consists of two parts. The lower component is dominated by a luminous charcoal and pastel rendering of the fence, meandering along the crest of a hill and beginning its descent toward the sea. It is divided into sections with ruled lines and annotated with technical information. A photocopy of a sheet of technical specifications, diagrams, and official seal and registration is collaged onto the lower left corner. The upper component presents a topographical map tracing the path of the fence, with the area pictured in the lower drawing circled in red.
Work (C) 1998 Christo
Christo was born Christo Javacheff in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, in 1935. He studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia from 1953 to 1956, when he moved to Prague. In 1957 Christo escaped to Vienna where he lived briefly before moving to Paris. Christo began his wrapped objects in Paris in 1958. Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected the first of their large temporary monuments in Cologne in 1961. In 1964 the artists moved to New York, and in 1968 they wrapped their first building, the Kunsthalle in Bern. They wrapped a mile and a half of Australian coast in 1969, and followed that work in 1972 with Valley Curtain, composed of 250,000 square feet of orange nylon fabric stretching across a pass in Rifle, Colorado. Their other major projects were Running Fence (1972-76); The Pont Neuf Wrapped (1975-85); Wrapped Reichstag (1971-95); Surrounded Islands (1980-83); and The Umbrellas, Japan-USA (1985-91). Christo and Jeanne-Claude live in New York City.
Alloway, Lawrence. Christo. New York, 1969.
Spies, Werner. Christo: The Running Fence. New York, 1977.
Christo: Running Fence. With essays by Calvin Tomkins and David Bourdon. New York, 1978.
Laporte, Dominique. Christo. New York, 1986.
Christo. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 1990. With essays by Albert Elsen,Anthony Bond, Daniel Thomas, and Nicholas Baume.
Vaizey, Marina. Christo. New York, 1990.
Purchased from the artist with funds from Ruth C. Rousch, 1977
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1980. From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the late Ruth C. Roush. 20 February - 19 March. Cat. no. 42.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 36, no. 2 (1978-79), pp. 128, 130.
Vaizey, Marina. Christo. New York, 1990, ill. p. 101, fig. 102.
The upper section consists of a map printed on medium-weight paper adhered to a second sheet of heavy white wove paper. The work is in very good and stable condition.
The drawing on the lower section is executed on a single sheet of oversized heavy-weight wove paper. Squared off with ruled lines in red and black pencil, there are various instructions, technical notes, and design specifications written overall. The image is drawn in soft pastel and charcoal in a broad, sweeping manner, with much layering and blending of color. This sheet too appears to be in very good and stable condition.
The two components were framed together, probably in the artist's studio.
1. Upper drawing inscribed in black charcoal, upper left: Compadres de San ANTONIO, SpiRito BalletoRe / 100-040-23, 100-040-21. Lower drawing inscribed in black charcoal, upper left: upper cable 9/16" diameter PREFoRmed PLOW STEEL WIRE ROPE continuous 6 x 19 SPecial hooks "Fused" TO OPEN AT APPROX. 10 PSF WIND PRESSURE TEST CAPACITY 195 LB (+), height 180 "INITIAL SAG = 1'0" 62'0" C/C POLES measured on average slope; lower left, above plan: 3'0" LOWER cable 5/16" diameter PREFORMED plow steel wire Rope 6 x 19 on equivalent to soil anchor 20' to 22'0" CAP'Y REO'D = 3200 LB, VERTICAL BEARING / LAT. GUYS TO SOIL anchor-ULT. CAP'Y REQ'D = 9900 LB. 20 - 22'0; signed, dated, and inscribed, lower left: RUNNING FENCE / PROJECT FOR Sonoma County and Marin County. STATE OF CaliFORNia / PACIFIC OCEAN -- TOWN OF Valley FORD, Freeway 101 Christo 1976.
2. Quoted in Calvin Tompkins, "Onward and Upward with the Arts," The New Yorker, 28 March 1977, p. 56.
3. The first preliminary drawing for Running Fence was done in October 1972 (location unknown). There is very little published on the many drawings. A much-needed catalogue raisonné of the artist's work is being prepared by Daniel Varenne.
4. From press release reprinted in Marina Vaizey, Christo (New York, 1990), p. 100.
5. From an interview in Domus 549 (August 1975), p. 54.
6. The AMAM is listed as a cosponsor in Christo: Running Fence, with essays by Calvin Tomkins and David Bourdon (New York, 1978), p. 15. The Allen declined the advance purchase contract, however, and did not purchase this drawing until 1977. All project costs were paid by Christo and Jeanne-Claude through the sale of studies, preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, and original lithographs.
7. Running Fence, 1977, Maysles Brothers/Charlotte Zwerin. A videotape of this film is in the Oberlin library video collection.