Christo was born on June 13, 1935, in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. He left Bulgaria in 1956, first to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and then escaped to Vienna, Austria, in 1957, followed by another move to Geneva, Switzerland. In 1958, Christo went to Paris, where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, who became not only his wife but his life partner in the creation of monumental environmental works of art. Jeanne-Claude passed away on November 18, 2009. Christo died on May 31, 2020, at his home in New York City, where he lived for fifty-six years.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude at Running Fence; California, 1976. (Photo: Wolfgang Volz)

From early wrapped objects to monumental outdoor projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork transcended the traditional bounds of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Some of their work included Wrapped Coast near Sydney (1968–69), Valley Curtain in Colorado (1970–72), Running Fence in California (1972–76), Surrounded Islands in Miami (1980–83), The Pont Neuf Wrapped in Paris (1975–85), The Umbrellas in Japan and California (1984–91), Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin (1972–95), The Gates in New York’s Central Park (1979–2005), The Floating Piers at Italy’s Lake Iseo (2014–16), and The London Mastaba on London’s Serpentine Lake (2016–18).

Following the completion of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped in Paris (1961–2021), Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s team returned focus on the artists’ only permanent, large-scale public artwork: The Mastaba, Project for United Arab Emirates, which was started in 1977.

“The moisture creates this lovely light and beautiful fog. In the morning, the mist rolls forward from the ocean, and the fence becomes invisible, part of the mist. Then the mist rolls back. So throughout the day, the fence is constantly appearing and disappearing.”
Christo Vladimirov Javacheff

Running Fence

Eighteen feet (5.5 meters) high and 24.5 miles (39.4 kilometers) long, Running Fence extended east-west near US Route 101, north of San Francisco, on the private properties of fifty-nine ranchers, following the rolling hills and dropping down to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay.

Running Fence, which was completed on September 10, 1976, consisted of forty-two months of collaborative efforts, the ranchers’ participation, eighteen public hearings, three sessions at the Superior Courts of California, the drafting of a 450-page environmental impact report, and the temporary use of the hills, the sky, and the ocean.

Running Fence (Project for Sonoma County and Marin County, State of California). Drawing 1975. (Private collection; photo: Wolfgang Volz)

All expenses for the temporary work of art were paid by Christo and Jeanne-Claude through the sale of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models, and original lithographs. The artists did not accept sponsorship of any kind.

The piece was made of 2.15 million square feet (199,742 square meters) of heavy, white nylon fabric, hung from a steel cable strung between 2,050 steel poles—each 21 feet (6.4 meters) long and 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) in diameter—embedded 3 feet (91 centimeters) into the ground, using no concrete, and braced laterally with guy wires (90 miles/145 kilometers of steel cable) and 14,000 earth anchors. The top and bottom edges of the 2,050 fabric panels were secured to the upper and lower cables by 350,000 hooks.

Installation of Running Fence, California, 1976 (Photo: Wolfgang Volz)

Running Fence crossed fourteen roads and the town of Valley Ford, leaving passage for cars, cattle, and wildlife. It was designed to be viewed by following 40 miles (64 kilometers) of public roads in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

An aerial view of Pangatalan Island, Shark Fin Bay.

All parts of Running Fence’s structure were designed for complete removal, and no visible evidence of the project remains on the hills of Sonoma and Marin Counties. As had been agreed with the ranchers and with county, state, and federal agencies, the removal of Running Fence started fourteen days after its completion, and all materials were given to the ranchers.

An aerial view of Pangatalan Island, Shark Fin Bay.