Geneva Anderson digs into art

Wolfram Hissen’s “The Running Fence Revisited” screens this weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival—an emotional portrait of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the fence, and the community that fought over it

In the documentary “The Running Fence Revisited,” Jeanne and Christo reconnect with the community that supported their controversial fence thirty-four years ago. Filming at the Benedetti’s Sonoma County turkey farm: Christo’s nephew Vladimir Javacheff, Best Boy Vincent O’Connell, filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, turkey farmer Walter Benedetti, Jeanne-Claude, and Christo. Photo by Erin Van Rheenen

More than any other filmmaker working with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wolfram Hissen has stayed the test of time.  The German filmmaker made his first film about their work 26 years ago and, six films later, he is still going strong.  The Running Fence Revisited, screening on Saturday and Sunday this weekend at the 14th Sonoma International Film Festival celebrates Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence, a 24 mile long white fabric fence that ran through Marin and Sonoma Counties for two weeks in 1976 and profoundly changed the way we all think about art.   The documentary contains precious footage of Jeanne-Claude’s last visit to Northern California in the fall of 2009, and provides a riveting snapshot of the intense and highly creative style of communicating the artistic couple employed as well as touching interviews with the farmers and community members who supported and opposed the controversial project.  Christo insists that the “Fence” itself is not the work of art but rather how the fence interacted with the landscape made the art.  It was the trailing nylon ribbon “suddenly underlined and energized by the topography” and how “the people themselves who got into the discussion, for or against” and the immense paper trail—that were all together “Running Fence.”  And this is the amorphous subject that Hissen tackles so admirably in his film that was commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their exhibition “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence” (April 2- September 26, 2010).    

The 47 minute film was shot on location in Valley Ford, Bloomfield and along the fence line began near the Old Redwood Highway close to Penngrove, crossed 18 roads and transected 59 ranches as it stretched across the golden hills of West Sonoma County and dropped into the Pacific just over the Marin County line.  It features many quiet scenes of Christo and Jeanne-Claude just walking and talking arm in arm, habituating the viewer to the slow dreamy rhythm of being in nature.  There is no added sound, save from original sound of the fence itself being whipped about by the wind and music from the footage that was made in 1976-77 in the pickup of William Corda and Joe Pozzi.  

Below is an interview Wolfram Hissen and I started in Washington D.C. last April at the film’s global premiere at the Smithsonian and finished at its West Coast premiere last June at the Union Hotel, Occidental, and at the Charles M. Schultz Museum, in Santa Rosa.  Typical of the today’s international filmmaker, Hissen is constantly on the move:  he maintains a home in France and in New York and is juggling several projects at once.  Once a big chunk of the funding seemed fairly certain, he assembled his crew quickly in the fall of 2009–Derek van Rheenen, Ph.D., assistant director, Erin van Rheenen, gopher and author of an eloquent brochure on the film, and best boy Vincent O’Connell.   He shot most of the film during the special Bloomfield celebration with Christo and Jeanne-Claude (September 2009) celebrating the fence at 33.  (see ARThound, September 13, 2009  “The Running Fence at 33…an extended Family Gathers Round Christo and Jeanne-Claude”  and September 3, 2009 “The Running Fence at 33..Christo and Jeanne Claude Visit Sonoma County.”   

The interview has been edited so that the time frames discussed are relative to 2011.

Geneva Anderson: How did you first get involved with Christo and what inspired you to do this film?

Wolfram Hissen:  Christo made a huge impression on me when I was young.  I am a German citizen, was born in Köln, but was raised in Portland, Oregon, and New York.  In the late 1960’s, our family returned to Heidelberg, Germany and I found that a very strange planet indeed.  My parents were originally from East Germany and so that was another layer.  We were travelling in both East and West Germany and, to me, everything seemed forbidden.  My brother and I were very American and missing everything.  I was about 8 years old and in Heidelberg, the America House had been wrapped by Christo in 1969 (America House Wrapped).  I never forgot that, that someone came to Germany who had the power and freedom to wrap a building and that really totally surprised me. 

Also, my family is very interested in film-making.  My grandfather was a co-inventor of the magnetic tape and always had cameras and recording stuff around.  From about the age of 10 on, I was always wondering what direction I would take.  In art school, I saw the Maysles brothers film “Running Fence” and I remembered the Heildeberg project.   The “Running Fence,” for me, was one of the most important artworks made in the second half on the century.  When I saw that film, I said, one day I am either going to make art like that or film like that.   So this is a magic moment.  It’s 30 odd years after I saw that film. I had decided to make films like that.  I found myself making a film about it and now I am showing it.

GA:  How many films have you done with Christo and Jeanne-Claude?

Wolfram Hissen:  We’ve been working together for about 25 years and this was our 6th film. The “Running Fence” project was relatively fast…it took them 4 years to get approval but with the “Wrapped Reichstag” or “Gates,” it took them over 20 years to achieve those projects.   They always had something to work on if one project was blocked.  We adapted that with our filmmaking too, and I’ve worked off and on since 2008 on the fence film.

My main films are: 1995, Project for the Würth Museum, Künzelsau, Germany. (The floors and stairways of the small private Würth Museum were wrapped and the windows were covered.)

1996, Christo und Jeanne-Claude, Dem Deutsche Volke, Verhüllter Reichstag 1971-95, (alternative title: To the German People: Wrapped Reichstag 1971-1995) , Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, Est-West, 98 minutes.

1997-98, Wrapped Trees, Foundation Beyler, Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, (The wrapping of 178 trees at the Bayerle Foundation in Switzerland.), Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 26 minutes.

2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude, On the Way to Over The River, Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 34 minutes.

2008  Along US 50 “Over The River” in progress, Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 89 minutes.

2010  The Running Fence Revisited, EstWest 47 minutes.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76 Segments 1, 2B, and 3A, September 10 – 20, 1976, ©Christo Photograph by Gianfranco Gorgoni

 GA: Did you see actually see “The Running Fence”?

Wolfram Hissen:  I did not see the fence.  I was raised in Oregon though and am very familiar with the West Coast.  My assistant director, Derek Van Rheenen, who I have been friends with since we were babies, is also from here.  He’s a professor at UC Berkeley and we’ve collaborated on several films.  I am also quite familiar with the mentality.  To me, being European, I kind of look at CA like an independent country, very different from the rest of the states.  You could say it’s like Belgium and France or Austria and Germany which are European but quite distinct.   Actually, there’s nothing like California.  

 GA:  How did the idea for the film about “The Running Fence” come about?

Wolfram Hissen: Since 1994, we’ve been filming for the “Over the River” project even though the project hasn’t happened yet.   About 4 years ago, Christo and Jeanne-Claude asked me to make a film out of that footage and I said I’d gave it a try.  It went well and that film was shown at the Phillips Collection here in Washington, D.C. for the “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Over the River, a Work in Progress” (October 11, 2008-January 25, 2009).  There were a couple of people there from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including curator George Gurney, and he liked it.   They invited me over to discuss making a film about the Running Fence.  I had already been to the region in 2005 or 2006 because of the next project that Christo planned, for the span of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado.  I came to see where they did the Running Fence because that project is very much like putting the Running Fence horizontally over the river. 

When I walked into that little post office in Valley Ford, I was so surprised…this was a beautiful post office… and like a shrine to Christo and the fence.  I told myself, one day I am going to a film and this is going to be a part of it.

GA: What exactly is it about Christo and Jeanne-Claude that keeps you making films about them?

Wolfram Hissen:  There’s such a great spirit in them and aspects that I myself share with them—being independent and valuing freedom, liberty.  Also, I believe strongly, like them, that you do not always need to do things that make sense.  If all our lives were about things that made sense, then what would we have.  I also like the temporal aspect– these are ephemeral projects.  And then both of them are just incredible people.  I like being together with them…it’s been 25 years now.  Aside from my parents, there is no one I‘ve learned more from.  I respect them deeply.  They are a brilliant creative team and they work hard all the time, never satisfied and saying ‘it’s good enough.’  For them, every detail is debated over and over. 

The thing that also works very well with us is that Jeanne-Claude was of French origin and I am of German origin but I was raised in the U.S., but for most of my adult life, I’ve lived in France.  I do keep a place in Brooklyn but most of my life I’ve gone back and forth between those cultures.  I really enjoy and get people who have this diverse cultural background and who live this life nomadic life.  You don’t have to explain much—you get each other.   Christo and Jeanne-Claude are people who do not judge that fast, who have openness and experience. They got along with those American ranchers and they knew how to make themselves and their ideas understood.  In each language and each culture, you address this somewhat differently and they are great masters at that.  They had nothing to do with Japan but got along fine, same thing with Germany.  They fit.  That’s such an important part of their art—how to make people understand what you want and what you are planning. 

In the film, Leo Ielmorini says “They knew how to speak to a dumb farmer and to a supervisor.”   It’s not true that Christo and Jeanne–Claude thought they were dumb farmers…far from it.  No, they knew that were talking to someone with different experience and ways of getting things done and they knew how to reach him.  

 GA: Given that the Maysles brothers film “Running Fence” , from 1978,  has been so successful and important, did you want to do something different to distinguish yourself?  Was that a factor for you?

Wolfram Hissen:  No, not at all.  That is a beautiful film, certainly one of the best documentary films I have seen in my life and it influenced my own life.  I saw it when I was a teenager and I thought it was beautiful and something I’d like to do myself.  But with today’s filmmaking and situation, everything has changed, and it doesn’t really make sense to compare to them or to find things the two films have in common.  What we might have in common, Albert and I, (his brother David Maysles died in 1987) is that we are both psychologists and it’s helpful to be a psychologist when you are a filmmaker and to really enjoy people.  The people in CA are really wonderful, unique, and I must say, it’s fun to work with them.  Every day, when I went out– sometimes with the team—and spent time with the ranchers, I really enjoyed it.  I had nothing to worry about and I felt like I knew these people.

GA:  What was your goal for the film then, and how did Jeanne Claude’s death impact the editing?

Wolfram Hissen: When you make this kind of film, you speak to people in a very direct and private way.  On one level, it’s something fun but it’s also profound…this film has been speaking about actually pop art that happened in the 1970’s so we’re looking at a whole generation since then.  I wanted it to be emotional and beautiful.

This was tough project, not that I am complaining, but when Jeanne-Claude also died, the film really became a different project…it became more about her influence and at the same time, it had to remain about the fence and tell that story.  We were talking about things that were temporary and eternal with the overlay of her passing.  She herself expressed this concept very well in words in the film.  It was challenging but I found I had all the material I needed.

GA:  Speaking of material, it seems to me, like it could easily be 90 minutes or more.  How was the length determined and, within that constraint, how did you decide what to leave in and take out?

Wolfram Hissen:  Budget and how much time I could spend with it.  This film really went far with the budget it had.  Initially, the planning with the Smithsonian was to make a film that was 20-25 minutes.  When I did my first research trip to the area, I knew there was so much that I could easily do a 90 minute film.  When I showed the first cut in Washington, D.C., a couple of months before the exhibition opened, the film was 30 minutes long.   I felt there was so much missing, that I needed to tell more, to show more.    

As it stands, I spent twice as much time as I had planned and the film is twice as long and also in the beginning there was a different approach.  I was always a little afraid that something would happen and I didn’t want this film to become another story.  And then, when Jeanne-Claude passed away, that added again a dimension that we hadn’t thought about before.  For instance, the footage in the beginning of the film– those aerial views–they were taken on November 18, 2009, that’s the exact day that she died in New York.  These shots were really taken that day and they are beautiful and everyone agrees they are breathtaking.  I was informed the next day that she ha died but some thoughts ran through my mind about what it all meant.   

GA:  It’s a tender homage, showing her energy and passion.  In the film, you were dealing some people who were older.  Did you have any troubles from that perspective, with their memory and so forth?   They come off as having the wisdom of ages and being very coherent.

Wolfram Hissen:  Well, sometimes they would start to say something fascinating and I was like this is great, keep going …but they would forget what they were talking about and just stop.  But basically it went very well.   I was so fascinated by what they were saying, their intelligence about life.

GA:  You decided to forego adding sound.  How important is sound in this film? 

Wolfram Hissen:  Most of filmmaking is in aesthetic decision.  The main music in the film is actually the artwork of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and there is ambient sound.  This world is so loud we really wanted to invite people to look closely at that footage and listen to what the people have to say. 

In 1991, Derek (Van Rheenen) and I went to Bakersfield and also to Japan to film “The Umbrellas” project and we asked Christo how he chooses the exact spots where he put those umbrellas.  He said, ‘How do you write a symphony?’  The art itself is also musical, lyrical.  If you look at the fence, as Bill LeBaron says in the film, it was in the landscape, it was all movement, ripple.   We decided to focus on the original sound, so the music in the film is the original music from the footage that was made in 1976-77 in the pickup of William Corda and Joe Pozzi and that’s it.  

The Running Fence Revisited film crew: Best Boy Vincent O’Connell, filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, Best Boy and Gopher, Erin Van Rheenen and co-Director Derek Van Rheenen. Photo: Geneva Anderson

GA: What was it like to interview the sculptor Mary Fuller McChesney, who along with her husband, Robert McChesney, vehemently opposed the fence?  She seems entrenched in her attitude about Christo and Jeanne-Claude to this day.  

Wolfram Hissen:  That is ok.  I respect totally that people should be able to have their opinions.  I thought for the film it would be important to have the opposition interviewed.  I also interviewed Mr. Kortum, a Sonoma County Supervisor at the time, who is by now quite old.  And it was difficult to understand always what he was saying but he made his point.  I think from Mrs. McChesney you understand very well why they opposed the fence– because they did not want to be a part of this art– which is fine.  The other reason to be opposed was for the environment, and those claims came from Kortum.  We found out from certain ranchers, like Leo Ielmorini, that this wasn’t a big issue at all.  And time has shown that well too–nothing came of the claims that were made about Christo and Jeanne-Claude or the damage that the fence would cause.

GA:  You captured the common sense of the farmers very well, especially with Leo’s lines about birds not flying into the fence at night. 

Wolfram Hissen:  I especially loved his old-American language, which you don’t hear anymore.  He says Christo and Jeanne-Claude “were smarter than the average bear.”  That’s Yogi Bear.   What kids today know who that is?   Or, he says, “They’ve been around the horn once or twice,” which is a typical expression of immigrants 150 years ago, I mean before the Panama Canal, because you had to go around the horn, which was the southernmost point of South America.  I just love that.   

It is also part of American culture to create or to play with words, like the term “sue happy,” “everyone is sue happy.”   This came up when I was talking about the probably of getting these permissions from all the individual farmers today.  I had never heard that before and I really enjoyed just listening to the farmers talk.  And Roz, in that tiny post office, was wonderful.    

I wanted to make an emotional beautiful film, which to me is like a roller coaster that takes you with it.  In the beginning, it’s just beautiful and then you meet these people and they take you some place with them.   They are funny and you are laughing and forget the world and you just enjoy, taking it in, but then there’s this moment where they’re talking about getting older, aging, saying my father passed away, this person passed away, and that was so important to put in the film.  That’s what I mean by emotional beautiful because all emotions are there—a lot of people at the end of film are crying…and the last words of Jeanne Claude, those words about what they are doing and the temporary aspect of it, are chilling and beautiful.

GA:  What are you doing right now?

Wolfram Hissen:  I am making a film about the American landscape artist Stephen Hannock.  It’s a film about modern landscape painting which is experiencing a revival and the musician Sting, who is a friend of Hannock and a big supporter of his work, is involved.  I’m also working on a series about the West Coast for a German-French art station with my brother.  We also just completed a film on the eruption of Mt. St. Helens that was shown on Nova.   We always have different projects we are working on.  Our films usually take quite a while.  

The Running Fence Revisited, 2010, 47 minutes.  Team: Directors: Wolfram Hissen, Derek Van Rheenen, Best Boy: Vincent O’Connell, Erin Van Rheenen, Gopher: Erin Van Rheenen

 Screens at The 14th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival: Saturday, April 9, 2011,  6:00 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Sunday, April 10, 2011, 6:45 p.m., Woman’s Club)   Festival Details:

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 14th Sonoma International Film Festival opens this Wednesday with a stellar line-up of cinema, food, and wine in gorgeous Sonoma

In Wolfram Hissen's documentary "The Running Fence Revisited," screening Saturday and Sunday at the Sonoma International Film Festival, iconic footage of the Northern, CA coastline is the backdrop for a tender exploration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 1976 Running Fence. The film was made in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Musuem's 2010 exhibition and acquisition of The Running Fence's archival documentation from Christo. Photo courtesy Erin Van Rheenen

This Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 14th annual Sonoma International Film Festival pairing 5 nights and 4 days of nearly nonstop screenings of new independent films from around the world with great gourmet food and wine.  Highly anticipated by its loyal audience of over 18,000, this festival which takes place in eight venues within walking distance from Sonoma’s charming town square has a lot to offer both locals and destination visitors.   “Our audience is very informed and film-savvy,” said festival director Kevin McNeely on Friday. “What gives our festival a very personal feeling is the chance to mingle with filmmakers and actors in our Backlot tent and at screenings and we absolutely deliver on the best in the film, food and wine.”

Susan Sarandon Honored as Thelma and Louise turns 20 

Susan Sarandon will be present this weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival to receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, given only twice in the festival’s 14 year history. Photo courtesy Sonoma International Film Festival.

 This year’s festival will honor acclaimed actress Susan Sarandon with its Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday, April 9, 2011.  The award, given just twice in the festival’s 14 years honors a creative talent who, through the course of his or her career, has created a body of work which symbolizes the highest level of achievement in the motion picture art form. (Bruce Willis was the first recipient in 2009.)  Sarandon is most associated with her performances in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Thelma and Louise (1991) but won her Oscar for Best Actress in 1995 for Dead Man Walking.  She has been nominated for an Academy Award 34 times and has appeared in over 70 films.  “She is a remarkable talent with an amazing body of work,” said Kevin McNeely, “and she has conducted her private life admirably–doing responsibly cool things with her celebrity.”  Among her many activities, Sarandon is a spokesperson for UNICEF and the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA).

The tribute will start Saturday at 630 p.m. at the Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall, with a montage of clips from Sarandon’s films and an on-stage discussion with Sarandon about her career and upcoming projects.  Immediately after the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, there will be a reception in her honor and a screening of Thelma and Louise (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year).  The evening will close with the festival’s annual gala, held this year at the Sebastiani Winery.  

The Line-Up

The festival kicks off on Wednesday evening at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art with Marin filmmaker’s Fredrick Marx’s acclaimed documentary Journey from Zanskar and at the Sebastiani Theatre with Rob Hedden’s romantic feature film You May Not Kiss the Bride

Journey from Zanskar tells a moving and important story about the preservation of traditional Tibetan culture, which has survived in remote Zanskar with an untainted and continuous lineage dating back thousands of years.  The film tracks two monks who, with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, take 17 children through the Himalayan mountains to a near-by school to learn and thus preserve the future of their precious culture.  This inspirational film is also controversial.  Because it educates, it has been criticized (Zanskar Resource) for its role in creating a situation that may actually popularize remote Zanskar and thereby accelerate the destruction of its untainted culture and traditions.  You May Not Kiss the Bride tracks a Croatian mobster as he tries to arrange U.S. citizenship for his daughter by setting her up with an American photographer. (Journey From Zanskar, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art) (You May Not Kiss the Bride, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sebastiani Theatre)

Thursday’s evening line-up includes the French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, a drama about friendship which features Marion Cotillard (Oscar, Best Actress 2008, La Vie en Rose) and an ensemble cast.  Set at a beautiful vacation home, the film looks at the small cracks in the surface of relationships and pretenses that are hard to keep up in the face of an unexpected tragedy.  (6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m, Sebastiani Theatre (476 First St. East)

The weekend’s programming kicks into high gear Friday with concurrent screenings in all venues across town.   Among the 74 independent feature films, shorts, documentaries and other films screened will be Friday evening’s West Coast premiere of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation, one of the most buzzed about films at this year’s Sundance festival.   The film explores the media’s deplorable impact on our society perception of women.  Through in-depth interviews with academics, newsmakers (including Katie Couric, Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice) and actors (Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho) and youth—basically women in all walks of life—-Newsom shows that we are all being sold (year after year) dated, limited and detrimental stereotypes of what it means to be a powerful woman.  Oprah liked this important film so much that her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) snapped it up in February for their OWN Documentary Film Club that plans to do for film what Oprah has done for books.  Newsom will attend Friday’s 6 p.m. screening at the Sebastiani Theatre on the square.

Two additional documentaries that I consider essential viewing are German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen’s stunning The Running Fence Revisited and Suzan Beraza’s Bag It

The Running Fence Revisited celebrates Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence, the 24 mile white fabric fence that ran through Marin and Sonoma Counties for two weeks in 1976, that profoundly changed the way we all think about art.  This documentary contains precious footage of Jeanne-Claude’s last visit to Northern California in the fall of 2009 and provides a riveting snapshot of the couple’s intense and highly creative style of communicating.   There are numerous interviews with the farmers and community members who supported the controversial project and look back at it with humor and pride.  It also contains some of the most gorgeous aerial footage of our coastline to be seen.   If you’re looking for a film that celebrates life, nature, and art, this is it.  Saturday, 6:00 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Sunday, 6:45 p.m., Woman’s Club)

Bag It follows Jeb Barrier, an earnest guy who greatly resembles Jason Alexander a.k.a. George Castanza on Seinfield, as he explores the proliferation of plastic in our society, particularly single use disposable plastic bags. (link to trailer) After watching this film, you likely cringe every time you see a plastic bag.  Each year, Americans throw out an astounding 100 billion plastic bags, which will never break down because of their non-biodegradable makeup. As they sit in landfills for thousands of years, they merely break up into tiny pieces that absorb toxic chemicals, only to be fed into the soil and water supply or ingested by animals, particularly marine life. With landfill space running out, plastic bags are also likely to be burned at waste-to-energy plants where toxic chemicals seep into the atmosphere.  On March 28, 2011, the subject made the Wall Street Journal when journalist Vauhini Vara profiled Stephen Joseph, the lawyer who sued Kraft Foods to eliminate transfat in Oreos and is now suing several California cities trying ban plastic bags.  Joseph claims that paper bags are even worse for the environment.  Bag It debunks this and makes a compelling case for imposing a ban on plastic bags and is an educational must-see for everyone. (Saturday, April 9, 9:15 a.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House)

The festival frequently pairs a music documentary with a live music event. Following Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. screening of From Gershwin to Garland: A Musical Journey with Richard Glazier, Richard Glazier will give a 30 minute piano concert of some of the classics from the golden age of American song. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m, New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

And if you are fascinated with jazz, you won’t want to miss the artfully shot The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, a tribute to the Bay Area jazz composer who pioneered the crossover of jazz into pop and did the unforgettable scores for Charles Schultz’s Peanuts animations.  Who can forget “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or the stellar hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”?  George Winston calls Vince Guaraldi and his music “a part of the deep heart and soul of San Francisco and of the experience of childhood and beyond.” Guaraldi’s daughter Dia, and the members of his original jazz trio, will all be at the Saturday screening.  (Friday, 9:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Saturday, 3:45 p.m., Women’s Club)   

Nabil Elderkin’s Bouncing Cats is another inspiring musical documentary that explores hip-hop with a focus on b-boy culture and breakdancing as a tool for positive social change in Uganda where 49 percent of the population is under the age of 14.  The film tells the story of Abraham Tekya, a Ugandan–boy and A.I.D.S. orphan who created the Breakdance Project Uganda that is helping to rehabilitate the war-ravaged nation, child by child.  (Friday, 6:45 p.. and Saturday 12:45 p.m. at Women’s Club)  

Seattleite Karen Stanton’s documentary debut film A Not So Still Life, profiles Ginny Ruffner, one of the major artists of the modern glass/conceptual crafts movement whose fans include Dale Chihuly and Tony Robbins and most likely anyone who watches this film.  In 1991, at age 39, Ruffner, already a well-established artist, was struck by a car and the accident nearly killed her but didn’t put a dent in her spirit.  Glass is forged with fire and so is Ginny Ruffner.  An early party scene at Ruffner’s sprawling home, itself an artwork, is not to be missed. (Friday, 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, 8:15 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art)

Cinema Epicurea

Food is an area where the Sonoma International Film Festival stakes its claim.  Let’s cover their food films first.  Sally Rowe’s A Matter of Taste tracks British chef Paul Liebrandt, the force behind the legendary haute Tribeca restaurant Croton.  What’s great about this film is that she follows him on a hellish roller coaster ride in the elite food world.  In 2000, at age 24, at Atlas restaurant (on Central Park South), he earned three stars from the erudite New York Times food critic Williams Grimes (1998-2003) who praised his daring style and described him as a “pianist who seems to have found a couple of dozen extra keys.”  In the less flamboyant post-9/11 climate, however, he’s unable to repeat his success and has a rough patch that lasts 8 years until he hits his stride again with Croton, where is both chef and owner.  There’s mesmerizing kitchen action, with scintillating porn of him painstakingly creating his mind-warping masterpieces like chocolate covered scallops.  There’s a romance too.  And there’s lots of commentary from his colleagues in the world of elite food including our own Thomas Keller who built an empire from his legendary French Laundry Restaurant in Yountville and then went on to found the more urban Per Se in New York and who remains the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. (Screens Saturday 12:15 p.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House and Sunday, 12:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

San Francisco-based food journalist Stett Holbrook and Marin documentary filmmaker Greg Roden made a late hour direct appeal to Kevin McNeely to screen “Food Forward,” their pilot for the upcoming PBS food series “Food Forward.”  The compelling film makes its world premiere at the festival on Thursday and shies away from food celebrities to tell compelling stories about committed people across America who are changing the way people eat.  “It’s all about people in Oakland and Manhattan who have rejected industrial food and are growing their own healthy sustainable food in urban settings.” said McNeely. “There are rooftop gardens in Manhattan that are producing enough food for the local farmers’ markets and beekeepers who are producing honey —it’s very cool.”  (Thursday 7 pm at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art).

Also making its world premiere is Robert Lemon’s ¿Tacos or Tacos? a short documentary inspired by the taco trucks of Fruitvale, in Oakland.  The film examines the genesis and metamorphosis of food truck culture into the upscale sensation that we are now experiencing nationwide.  Concentrates on the Bay Area and Austin, Texas, where Lemon is a doctoral candidate at UT.  (Saturday, 9:30 a.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Sunday, 3:15 p.m. Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House) 

“JoyRide” is a favorite of SIFF director Kevin McNeely. Alex Petrovitch and Katherine Randolph (Markwood Films) are what film festivals love to roll their dice on. The Los Angeles couple’s first feature film is written, directed, acted, and edited by them. "JoyRide" is about a couple that needs cash fast and decides to make a reality film about her brother’s drug dealing…they hit the road and are soon in over their heads. Screens Saturday and Sunday. Image: Markwood Films.


 Wine, Food and “Backlot”
In 2009, Sonoma was the first U.S. city to receive the distinctive “cittaslow”  (“slow city”) classification that includes not only slow food and a rich agricultural bounty, but a community attitude that savors life along with the finest food and wine.  This special ambiance infuses the festival too whose culinary center is “The Backlot,” a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall that is open to all pass holders.  Here, they can mingle and have lively discussions in a chic lounge environment while enjoying the best of wine country vintages and culinary delights provided by Wine Country Party and Events.  Wine and beer will be available for purchase with $5 tickets available at the box office. Sushi by Ed Metcalfe of Shiso Sushi will be served on Friday and Sunday in the Backlot. 

Over 23 wineries and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance will be represented throughout the festival including Sebastiani, Gundlach Bundschu, Muscardini Cellars, Eric Ross, Banshee Wines, Haraszthy Cellars, Highway 12, Gloria Ferrer, Roessler Cellars, and Nicholson Ranch. A New Belgium Beer Garden and a Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge will be located in the Sonoma Plaza. Each screening venue will either offer full dining options or feature a sampling of snacks and treats provided by festival sponsors and partners. (Full description of the wine and food options at various venues.)

Closing Night Festivities: The festival closes on Sunday, April 10th, with an Awards Ceremony in the Backlot Tent at 8 pm.  Winners of the Jury Awards in all film categories including Features, Documentaries, World Cinema, Shorts, and Animation will be announced.  

Festival Details:
Star Pass $750 individual/$1,400 couple (Includes Monthly Cinema Series Hosted by Sonoma Film Society)

* All Access to Festival Films and Events at SIFF Including: pre-Opening Party at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Opening Reception at MacArthur Place, Festival Gala, Filmmakers Lunches and Dinners, VIP and After Parties, Opening and Closing Night Film Screenings, Spotlight Tribute, Awards Party, and Filmmaker Reception

* Fast Lane Entry to all Festival Events for priority seating

*All-Inclusive Food and Wine at the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Premiere Pass $300/$550

*Guaranteed Access to Festival Films and Programs during the SIFF including: Opening Night Film Screening and After Party, Festival Gala, Spotlight Tribute, Closing Night Film Screening and Awards Party.

* Four Food and Wine Tickets for the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Festival Pass $150/$275

*Access to Films and Programs including: Film Screenings, Panels and Discussions, and Closing Night Film Screening & Awards Ceremony.

 Day Pass $60

*Access to Film Screenings for Day Purchased


Single Film Tickets:  $15 general entry tickets can be purchased at box office.  Arrive 30 minutes before screening and wait to be seated.    


Venue Locations:

Sebastiani Theatre – 476 First St. East
Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club – 574 First St. East
New Belgium Lounge at Sonoma Community Center – 276 E. Napa St.
Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House – 246 First St. East
Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room – 389 Fourth St. East
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – 551 Broadway
Murphy’s Irish Pub – 464 First St. East
Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall – 126 First St. West

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

film event– the Premiere that means the most…Wolfram Hissen will show “The Running Fence Revisited” to Sonoma County June 23-25, 2010

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen shooting footage for "The Running Fence Revisited" in September 2009 in Valley Ford at a celebratory gathering with Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Filmmaker Wolfram Hissen of est-West films  will screen his new documentary film “The Running Fence Revisited” in Sonoma County this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.   The 47 minute documentary, shot almost exclusively in Sonoma and Marin Counties recounts the events and personalites that shaped Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence project in 1976.   The film premiered in April in Washington D.C. at the opening of the exhibition “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence,”  at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art. 

The farmers and people near and dear to the project are planning to attend Wednesday evening’s Union Hotel reception and screening.  Following each screening, Hissen will discuss his film and take audience questions.  The screenings are hosted by the Sonoma County Museum and the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and sponsored by the Friends of the Running Fence, the Union Hotel, and the Sonoma County Tourism Board.   

  • Wednesday, June 23 at the Union Hotel in Occidental – SOLD OUT!
  • Thursday, June 24 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum theater – SOLD OUT!
  • Friday, June 25 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum theater – SOLD OUT!

All screenings are currently sold out, but you may call 707.579.1500 be added to the Waiting List.

All shows start at 7:15pm with a small reception prior, starting at 6:30 pm.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Artist Jeanne-Claude has died suddenly. She lived a full life. May she now wrap Heaven in shimmering fabrics

Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebone, wife and artistic partner of Christo, died suddenly Wednesday, November 19, 2009, in Manhattan, where she had lived with Christo since 1964.  A statement on the couple’s website said that she died of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  She was 74.  I met her several times throughout the years and found her both enchanting and frank–hallmarks of a strong woman.  The last time we met was in mid-September at “The Running Fence at 33” gathering,  when she and Christo spent the afternoon in Valley Ford reminiscing with old friends about “The Running Fence,” which graced our California coastline 33 years earlier.  German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was there shooting a documentary film about the fence and George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum was also there preparing for “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition,” which opens April 2, 2010, in Washington and will travel nationally.  

Looking back at that lovely event, I am thankful that I had the chance to greet her again and that she was able to visit with friends who were part of her formative years.  She said several times that afternoon that she felt as if she had “come home.”   When I wrote about the gathering, my headline pointed to what was coming “..we’re all older but the fence lives on..”  Many of the farmers who had given the young couple permission to put the fence up on their property had passed away and most of the people at the gathering were well over 50.  Talking about the fence took us all back to our youthful days.   Jeanne-Claude was happy and spoke excitedly about their new project “Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado.”    which had suffered the standard bureaucratic and funding snafus that accompany these immense temporal  projects.  Her red-orange hair—reminiscent of the cotton candy hair of a clown– seemed brighter than it had ever been before.  She signed autographs and poured over pictures and maps.  She spoke graciously with strangers and lovingly with dear friends.  And, like a little girl, she snuck a cigarette with an old friend and told us not to photograph her smoking because she didn’t want to be seen promoting something that was unhealthy.     

Jeanne-Claude and Christo in younger days (image by Fred Modarrah)

I have always been fascinated by artist couples who manage to pull it off—a loving marriage, a creative partnership and fame.  Their collaborative approach, which I had heard them describe a few times in the 1990’s, always left me hungering for more information.  It was described as follows–Christo and Jeanne-Claude would come up with an idea and he would prepare drawings, scale models and descriptive items that could be sold to realize the full-scale project.  She was a driving force in other ways, particularly with financial affairs, permitting and when the project was going up on site– The only problem with this explanation was that it seemed to contradict an earlier history of sole attribution to Christo that had been in practice from the 1960’s through the 1980’s.

Around the time the Wrapped Reichstag project (1971-95) was nearing its completion– about 1994—Christo and Jeanne-Claude began to insist on retroactive joint attribution of all artworks from the 1960’s onwards that had previously been attributed to Christo.   They essentially re-branded themselves.  Before, they asserted they had been “Christo” and now they were instead “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”     The problem I see in that is that it does not answer when or how she began to think of herself an as artist and it clashes with earlier comments Christo made about his artistic process.  In my mind, a large part of making art is declarative–asserting that what you are doing is art when you are doing it.  It is less powerful when it comes 30 years after the fact.  

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (image by Wolfgang Volz)

So in the 1990’s, it was asserted frequently that she and he shared equally in the creative process.  At other times during this period, Christo spoke of himself as the artist, the one who had absolute control over all the decisions.  There are quotes to back-up competing interpretations.   Their website has a section called “Common Errors” which explains it this way: “In 1994 they decided to officially change the artist name Christo into: the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They have been working together since their first outdoor temporary work: “Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor, 1961.” Because Christo was already an artist when they met in 1958 in Paris, and Jeanne-Claude was not an artist then, they have decided that their name will be ” Christo and Jeanne-Claude”, NOT Jeanne-Claude and Christo.” 

Nice dodge.  I would have loved to have spoken with them about the topic of authorship, though I suspect the conversation would not have been an easy one.  I suspect the truth is that they struggled with this and reached some negotiated decision and then set it aside and got back to work, which they seemed to thrive on.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude met in Paris, France, in November, 1958—Christo Javachef, a native Bulgarian from Gabrovo, was a young impoverished refugee artist, who had recognized artistic talent and had already wrapped a few things.  She was born in Casablanca, Morocco, where her father, Major Léon Denat was in the French military.  Her mother, Précilda, divorced Denat after Jeanne-Claude’s birth and remarried three times.  During WWII, Jeanne-Claude lived with her father’s family while her mother fought in the French Resistance.  In 1946, Précilda married the influential General Jacques de Guillebon and the family led a priviledged life in Berne from 1948 to 1951, then in Tunisia from 1952 to 1957.  In 1957 they returned to Paris and lived in comfort.  Jeanne-Claude earned a baccalaureate in Latin and philosophy in 1952 from the University of Tunis. 

Jeanne-Claude met Christo in Paris in 1958 while she–a young debutant– was enagaged to be married and he was painting a portrait of her mother.  It is well-known that Christo invited her to his place to see his real artwork—sculptural pieces which were a series of wrapped found objects—and that she thought he was crazy but she was hooked.  She became pregnant by Christo but married her fiance, an older man, and then divorced him immediately and took up with Christo, delivering their child Cyril in 1960.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The couple not only share the same birthday but the same time of birth on June 13, 1935. They emigrated to New York from Paris in 1964 and worked together for over 40  years creating temporary artistic interventions involving covering, wrapping or altering landscapes.  Iconic best describes their impact.  Many people I have spoken with have mentioned a sense of the spiritual and others see it as a kind of architectural humor.    Whatever the reaction, is it deep and memorable–no one walks away from one of their installations without being stirred.  Their projects have been immortalized in six films by filmmaker Albert Maysles, whose first film “Christo’s Valley Curtain” was nominated for an oscar.   German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen also paid homage to the couple with his 1996 film “To the German People: The Wrapped Reichstag.” 

 My favorites of their 18 realized projects  are “ Running Fence” (1972-74),  “Pont Neuf Wrapped” (Paris, 1975-85) and  “Wrapped Reichstag”  (Berlin, 1971-1995)—all of which required years of planning and lengthy campaigns to obtain the necessary permits.  In September, Jeanne-Claude, with a mixture of pride and weariness, reminisced about the tenacity these bureaucratic interfaces required, particularly “The Running Fence” which was one of their earliest big projects.  I think it is fair to say that everyone in attendance at the event was proud that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had cut their teeth for these projects here on our home turf.   And, what a battle it was– they perservered and, in the end, created the most lyrical outdoor intervention ever.

 While the couple were long-term residents of New York, “The Gates” (1979-2005) was the only project they succeeded in installing in New York City, in Central Park.  They signed a 43 page contract with the city of New York before they could install the 7,503 orange fabric panels of varying heights that graced Central Park for 16 days.

The couple’s website is the best place to read about their work.   Whatever they have declared about the change from “Christo” to “Christo and Jeanne-Claude”, the institutions that house the artworks done by Christo’s hand have not followed suit with retroactive joint attribution.  That may or may not be important to Christo, who survives his wife and, according to their website, plans to continue on creating in both their names.    

SFMOMA has a number of photos and drawings by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in their collection with attribution solely to Christo Javacheff.  Images of “The Running Fence” dominate their Christo holdings and were accessioned in 1977, a year after the project was realized.  None of these are currently on display.  The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has 22 of Christo’s drawings, attributed solely to Christo (Christo Javacheff).  Ditto for the Smithsonian American Art Museum which in 2008 acquired the complete documentation of “The Running Fence.”  The title of the exhibition does credit Jeanne-Claude—“Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition.” 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artworks are temporary and immortal, living on in our dreams long after they have been taken down.   As a new cycle now begins for Jeanne-Claude that is even richer than her time here on earth, may she smile as she wraps heaven in shimmering fabrics.

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Running Fence at 33″…an extended family gathers round Christo and Jeanne-Claude… we’re all older but the fence lives on

Jeanne-Claude and Christo looking over the map of the Sonoma and Marin county properties that their 1976 Running Fence traversed.  Many of the original properties, working ranches, have been sold or subdivided.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo looking over the map of the Sonoma and Marin county properties that their 1976 Running Fence traversed. Many of the original properties, working ranches, have been sold or subdivided.

“The Running Fence at 33,” turned out to be a folksy get-together yesterday afternoon at Bloomfield Park, reuniting what has become a sprawling extended family of friends and well-wishers in the little community that Christo and Jeanne Claude called home for four years while they battled bureaucrats in Sonoma and Marin counties to get their project approved.  Nearly 100 people showed up—all a bit older than the last time they met and all eager to reminisce about the billowing white canvas fence that has lived on in their hearts and even in the fickle contemporary art world.  German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen who has been here all week shooting a documentary film about the fence had his camera rolling capturing the event.  

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was on hand to capture the festivities for his new film "The Running fence at 33" which will open with the Christo exhibition at the Smithsonian in April 2010

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was on hand to capture the festivities for his new film "The Running fence at 33" which will open with the Christo exhibition at the Smithsonian in April 2010

“It was a project that changed my life,” said Christo, slipping in and out of nostalgic reflections all afternoon while discussing topics that ranged from the project’s vexing bureaucracy, to how many of the original ranches had survived, to his wild hair.  Jeanne-Claude, with her own signature orange hair (brighter than it was the last time the couple visited), smiled and agreed, “It was really something, something big.”  The couple seemed perfectly content to sign posters and photos, give hugs and look over photo albums, many of them carrying captions that had been made on now-archaic typewriters.  The unspoken truth— like the yellowing pages of those very collectible Christo running fence art books, we’re aging…farmers are starting to pass and many of their dairy and cattle ranches have been split up too.  For that reason, no one seemed to mind that their every move was being documented by Hissen and will likely become footage in his documentary film “The Running Fence, 33 Years Later” that will launch in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition about the fence in Washington D.C. on April 2, 2010.  

 “The Running Fence” is the biggest work of art that has ever graced the Bay Area—the 24 mile-long 18 foot high steel pole and canvas fence ran from Dillon Beach to Cotati, and was visible from Highway 101.  Done as part of America’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration, it seems fitting it was conceived of by a Bulgarian-born conceptual artist who had relocated to Paris and then New York.   The project was in place for just two weeks in 1976 but it was four years in the making, transected 59 local ranches and it took a virtual army of volunteers to build, some of whom came from as far as New York to help out.   Many of the locals who agreed to let Christo run his project through their property have passed on, but their children were there to let Christo and Jean-Claude know how the project touched them.  Indeed, over the years, the fence has come to define the small community of farmers who joined with Christo and Jeanne-Claude to fight for art’s right to exist for its own sake. 


Jeanne-Calude greets old friend Rosy Ielmorini.  "The Running Fence" ran through Ielmorini's dairy farm and she has since visited three other Christo projects.

Jeanne-Calude greets old friend Rosy Ielmorini. "The Running Fence" ran through Ielmorini's dairy farm and she has since visited three other Christo projects.

Rosy Ielmorini, now 75, remembers the day she met Christo.  “He drove in one day with Jeanne-Claude, just inside our driveway, and you know how you do when you see a strange face in your yard, you just watch for a little while, so I did that.  Well, he started talking with my husband and I don’t know how it happened but pretty soon he was just around here a lot.  We had dairy you know, ranching and that life, and here was this artist, and my, did he talk.  I didn’t understand all this art stuff at first but I kept soaking it up and I got totally involved.  When it was going up, I was beside myself.”  Jeanne-Claude holds Rosy very dear–“I saw her on the bridge in Paris, at the pink Surrounded Islands, the Umbrellas”—that means so much to us.”

One of the afternoon’s more touching moments came when Susan Nowacki and her sister, Amy Sabourin, daughters of Jean Mickelsen presented Jeanne-Claude with a story their mother had written about the fence.  The fence went through the Mickeslen dairy farm out on Pepper Road.  (The ranch has since been sold to the Camozzi family.)  Jean Mickelson passed away in 2004 but she dictated the story to her caregiver after having a stroke and it was that copy, replete with typos, that was presented to Jeanne-Claude.  Mickelson is legendary in fence lore because it was she who made the oft-quoted apple pie statement—“When there was a lot of hullabaloo in the community about should this fence be allowed or not, mom and dad were very supportive of it,” said Susan Nowacki.  “Mom went before the Board of Supervisors and a lot of people who were saying that a temporary fence isn’t an artwork because it won’t last.  Mom said ‘Well, when I make a really good apple pie, it doesn’t last but people really like it and I think it’s an artwork.  The Board of Supervisors heard that and passed it and that’s how mom became famous.”

Well-wishers gathered at Bloomfield Park to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude and many saw younger-versions of themselves in the numerous photographs that were posted and circulated at the gathering.

As well-wishers gathered at Bloomfield Park to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude, many saw younger-versions of themselves in the numerous photographs that were posted and circulated at the gathering.

 Amy Sabourin, Nowacki’s sister, was a student at Petaluma High School at the time (class of 1974)and she recalls her parents hosting Christo and Jean-Claude in their living room for various fence-related meetings.  By the time the project was completed she was in college and saw it while visiting home.  “I thought it was very neat.  I will never forget the way it extended into the ocean.”  The Bloomfield gathering was “a little awkward” for Sabourin because she was there representing her mother who had passed and the finality of her loss really hit home.  The pieces of the fence their family kept were pretty dirty by the time fence came down but cherished.  Her mother made tablecloths out of one section and raffled them off amongst her card-playing friends.  Sobourin used her piece as Christmas tree skirt.

Shirley Handy was living in Petaluma at the time and learned of the project through the unemployment office. 

Shirley Handy, 19 at the time, recalls shifts that started at 3 a.m. and scaling tall poles

Shirley Handy, 19 at the time, recalls shifts that started at 3 a.m. and scaling tall poles

“It was a real job and we worked hard.  Our shift started at 3 a.m. They had to make sure it wasn’t too hot out. They provided everything—food, drinks, potties.”  Handy says that, at first, she approached it as a job but once she learned that a man had come from New York just to work on the project, her attitude changed.  “As the project materialized, I began to see it as art and that was very nice.”  The most memorable aspect of the project was “going up the poles and actually putting the fence up.  You had to have a harness and to know what you were doing.  It was something you never thought you’d do at age 19. .. OR.. when they told us, that we were taking the fence down into the water; that was something that had been kept hush-hush. That was well, very exciting.”    Handy said that she deeply touched when Jeanne-Claude gave her a big kiss and asked how she’d been.


Jeanne Claude, ARThound (Geneva Anderson) and Christo recall the fence which was Anderson's first exposure to a large-scale, environmental art project.  Anderson later worked as journalist in Christo's native Bulgaria.

Jeanne Claude, ARThound (Geneva Anderson) and Christo recall the fence which was Anderson's first exposure to a large-scale, environmental art project. Anderson later worked as journalist in Christo's native Bulgaria.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum purchased the full archives of the Running Fence project from Christo in 2008, about 350 individual items, including 46 hand-drawn preparatory sketches and collages by Christo, as well as the full environmental impact report which is significant because this is the first environmental impact statement ever done for a work of art.  This material was put together by Christo in 1977 as a running fence documentary exhibition that traveled around Europe and the US.  The Smithsonian will exhibit this material as well the 1978 Albert and David Maysles film “Running Fence” and Wolfram Hissan’s new film.  The show is called “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the ‘Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76,’ A Documentation Exhibition” and it opens April 2, 2010, in Washington and will travel nationally. 

 George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian, in charge of the exhibition, was directing traffic and I spoke to him amidst cars moving in and out of the field adjacent to Bloomfield Park.  Gurney has made a few trips to Northern, CA. but he didn’t actually see the fence but he says he understands why Christo chose this spot.  “It’s the topography, such a contrast between the coast and the hills and clumps of trees.  The fence took advantage of the very sculptural nature of the land—kind of surfacing and hiding in that land.  I think the landscape was very deterministic….This project really put him on the map.  He really had to overcome a lot to get it done and you don’t forget that.  It was also a taste of the future in terms of what he could expect.”   Gurney would not discuss how much the Smithsonian paid for the archives but said that it was understood that the Smithsonian would keep the material together and exhibit it nationally.

wellwishers agthered all afternoon at Bloomfield Park for "The Running Fence at 33" a day to reminisce and reconnect with what has become a large extended family

Locals gathered all afternoon Saturday at Bloomfield Park for "The Running Fence at 33," a day to reminisce and reconnect with what has become a large extended family.

The Bloomfield event was not without its own homegrown artworks.  After the project was dismantled, the local ranchers were given all the materials that ran through their property—in some cases that meant several huge 68 foot wide nylon canvas panels and lots of piping.  Mary Ann Bruhn, daughter of Lester Bruhn, who played a tremendous role in initially persuading local farmers to support the project,  helped organize the gathering and was very happy about the turnout.  “This was so important to our family,” said Bruhn.   She brought a tablecloth and a blazer that her mother, Amelia, had sewn from a small portion of just one their running fence panels.  Other farmers told of using the piping for fencing projects and the canvas for windbreaks and tarping.  Bruhn is now a hairdresser in Petaluma and said she never cut Christo’s hair but often thought about it.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Running Fence at 33–Christo and Jeanne-Claude visit Sonoma County September 12, 2009

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Photo: Wolfgang Voltz @1976 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Photo: Wolfgang Voltz @1976 Christo

ARThound is SO happy that Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence (1972-76), the project that inspired my great love of art and graced our golden hills in 1976 is in the limelight again.  We will have a chance to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude Saturday, September 12, 2009, when they speak in Bloomfield about their experiences with fence.

 The Running Fence was monumental in all regards–a lyrical white fabric curtain twenty-four and one-half miles long and eighteen feet high that linked Cotati at Highway 101 to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay.  Few stories are more inspirational in the artworld that that of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s struggle to persuade Sonoma and Marin County locals to proceed with this grand project which began in 1972 and was completed on September 10, 1976.  It took forty-two months of collaborative effort, two-hundred and forty thousand yards (over two million square feet) of heavy woven white nylon fabric, ninety miles of steel cable, two thousand and fifty poles embedded three feet into the ground, and fourteen thousand earth anchors.  The de-installation began two weeks after the fence was completed, and all materials were removed entirely from the site and given to local ranchers. This whole experience—the hearings, the media coverage, the building of the fence, seeing the fence several times daily, the post-event sale of pieces of the fence–was a memorable part of my

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Runnng Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76, Photo: Jeanne-Claude @1976 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Runnng Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76, Photo: Jeanne-Claude @1976 Christo

childhood.   Christo, at the time, described the project as “a celebration of the landscape” and indeed it was perhaps the first large-scale art project focusing on the natural beauty of rural northern California landscape, a route has since become a famous tourist destination.  It will be a pleasure to welcome back the couple that introduced our unique landscape to the artworld. 

 Among commemorative projects in the works “The Running Fence Revisited Proposal,” a collaboration between the Sonoma County Museum and Wowhaus to publish a book and mount an exhibition exploring all aspects of the fence.   Filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, who did the documentary  “To the German People:  The Wrapped Reichstag”  is also making a film about the Running Fence, out 2010.   

 “The Running Fence at 33” 2 to 5 pm, Saturday, September 12, Bloomfield Park, 6700 Bloomfield Road, between Petaluma and Valley Ford.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments