It seems that I am about a week behind in posting about certain exhibitions. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently hosting a Christo exhibiiton. Last Thursday I had the honor of participating in a series of events for the opening of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Remembering the Running Fence exhibition beginning with a dinner in honor of the artist himself on Wednesday night, a private tour with Christo on Wednesday morning, and a champagne opening Thursday evening. As I am from Sonoma County the Running Fence holds a special place in my heart. While I was not alive to see the manifestation of the fence, I have heard many stories and to be able to walk through the exhibition and see actual materials from the fence was fantastic. Christo explained that the purpose of this exhibition was to not only to chronicle the project from its inception to its installation, but to also act as an example for future projects. The first part of the show is a room filled with sketches, beginning with drawing of the fence against a nondescript background through to the fence chalk painted onto actual photographs of Northern California. What struck me as interesting about these sketches is that where the fence was “drawn” in Christo had inserted pieces of material rather than simply draw the fence with charcoal. Not all the sketches have this element but many of them do. This allows you to visualize the fence with all of the folding and movement that would be possible against the hills.
Another interesting element of this show is the incorporation of the people involved, without whom the fence would not have been possible. It takes us through the process through which ranchers were contacted and persuaded to allow this fence to run through their property. The main argument and purpose was that their land could become a work of art. The legal aspect of this project is very interesting as well. In state of California required an environmental impact report for the project, the first in the United States. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to argue their case in from of the appellate court to gain the permission to create the Running Fence, which was 24 miles long and ran into the northern coastal region. The exhibition includes a panel of the Fence as well as the posts that held the fence together. A scale model of 3 miles of the fence runs almost the length of one of the rooms. There are various interactive stations as well, at which you can browse documents such as the environmental impact report.
The collection is extensive, you can see the amount of work and detail required to create these installations. It’s more than just building the fence through the hills of California. The amount of sketching, researching and preparation work is phenomenal, and you get that sense walking through the exhibition.