By Jonah Raskin
What contemporary work of art was 18 feet high, 24.5 miles long and only on display for two weeks? Running Fence: Sonoma and Marin Counties, 1972–1976, of course. It was also made of white nylon and the total amount of money spent on it was $3.2 million. Few works of art have lasted so short a time yet had so lasting an effect not only on the art world itself but on the community in which it was constructed, displayed and then almost immediately deconstructed.
Brian O'Doherty's Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence (University of California Press; $49.95) retells the story of the boldly imaginative project, and the local farmers and ranchers who agreed to be part of it. In the beginning, Christo and Jeanne-Claude called the project Fences. At first, they only knew they wanted to create it somewhere on the West Coast. Sonoma and Marin provided the most suitable landscape, with county officials who actually signed off on the project. Christo's preliminary sketches of the fence show how skilled a draftsman he is and how much he and Jeanne-Claude knew about engineering.
Not surprisingly, there was opposition. Works of genius seem to bring out the worst—as well as the best—in humanity. O'Doherty, who never saw the fence itself, asks, "If you did not see the original Running Fence, what is lost?" Readers might gaze at Remembering Running Fence, linger over the images and come up with answers of their own.
The Sonoma County Museum and the Charles M. Schulz Museum present a screening of the documentary Running Fence Revisited Wednesday, June 23, at the Union Hotel, 3731 Main St., Occidental. 7:15pm. $5–$10. 707.579.1500.