Don’t Fence Me In

August 7, 2012
3 mins read


7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, 333 N. Laura St., Downtow

Admission to film is



In September 1976, kooky artistic duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed a large-scale collaborative project called “Running Fence.” It consisted of a 24-mile-long, 18-foot-tall fence with 2,050 panels of while nylon fabric hung from steel cables. The “fence” extended through Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California, disappearing into the Pacific Ocean.

“Artists in the ’70s — working with earthworks and process-based pieces — were many times working beyond the confines of the museum or studio walls,” explained Ben Thompson, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. “They were working at the scale of the Earth and its geology. I believe some of these projects were even able to be seen from space.”

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were two of the most well-known earthwork artists. Christo Javacheff was born in Bulgaria, and Jeanne-Claude Marie Denat de Guillebon, who died in 2009, was born in France. Some of their past works include wrapping the Reichstag building in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, as well as “The Gates,” a piece which consisted of 7,503 vinyl panels of fabric installed in New York City’s Central Park.

“For Christo, large-scale collaborative projects requiring the cooperation of many people were themselves a creative act,” Thompson said. “Of course, he was interested in the beauty and awe from the resulting object or installation, but ultimately it was the process that was also appealing.”

Thompson first learned of Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s art while a sculpture student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “[They] were already recognized as being some of the most important artists of the late 20th century,” he explained. “It was hard to not be familiar with their work.”

Throughout the execution of “Running Fence,” documentary filmmaking team of siblings Albert and David Maysles filmed Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s long struggle to negotiate land rights with farmers, work with contractors on the installation and secure the proper permits. The resultant film about their challenges is “Running Fence,” a 58-minute documentary released in 1978.

“I think films like these are in high demand from art enthusiasts,” Thompson said of the high price tag that comes with “Running Fence” ( offers the DVD at $70 for a used copy, $100 for a new copy). “For many of these types of works, the film/video documentation and photography are all that remain. You could say this record is the piece or at least now represents the piece.”

Other artifacts of the artwork supposedly remain. “As with the majority — if not all — of Christo’s projects, it was important that the works were self-funded,” Thompson said. “The artists did not want to be indebted to other stakeholders or have the vision of the work influenced by financial obligation to outside funders. I believe much of their funding came from the sale of the prints and other ephemera generated by these works.”

The couple’s “Running Fence” piece was completed on Sept. 10, 1976 — and then the innovative builders removed it 14 days later, leaving no visible trace. The only remnants are historic signs marking the site and, of course, the documentary.

“That’s art?” an angry onlooker shouts in the film. “Some lousy curtain coming through here with a bunch of city slickers looking at it. To hell with it. I’m against it. I think it’s stupid.”

With most of their projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were often met with controversy, annoyed locals and naysayers. Someone even claimed that the duo were Soviet spies — building “Running Fence” as a marker for missiles.

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and still Christo continues to build large installation pieces around the United States and the rest of the world. He is currently working on two projects. “Over the River,” a 5.9-mile stretch of silvery translucent fabric panels suspended high above the Arkansas River (slated for a 2015 exhibition), and “The Mastaba,” the largest sculpture in the world, to be constructed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

If approved, “The Mastaba” will be Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s only permanent large-scale work in the world.

Curator Ben Thompson explained, “[MOCA chose to screen this film] because it is documentation of how much goes into the creation of a large-scale earthwork such as ‘Running Fence’ and it’s one of the only ways to now experience the piece.”

Kara Pound


Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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