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The nylon, 24.5-mile Running Fence built by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in California’s Marin and Sonoma Counties in 1976 was visually stunning, streaking sinuously across rolling hills before diving headlong into the Pacific. But the Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit documenting the landmark environmental-art piece focuses primarily on the work’s mechanics, both the literal nuts and bolts of the construction process and the years of bureaucratic wrangling that preceded it. Unfortunately, the show gives short shrift to context about the artistic duo’s works. (Running Fence, dismantled after just two weeks on display, came after they wrapped a portion of Australian coast and hung a curtain across a valley in Colorado, but before they surrounded islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and wrapped Paris’ Pont Neuf Bridge and Berlin’s Reichstag.) The exhibit is also frustratingly elliptical about why some locals were so vehemently opposed to the project, litigating against it and even committing vandalism. But the busybodies are overshadowed by the show’s unexpected stars—the 59 grizzled, property-rights-exercising ranchers who not only agreed to let the work pass over their land, but also led the fight to make this offbeat art project a reality.

THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW 11:30 A.M. TO 7 P.M. DAILY TO SEPT. 26 AT THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM, 750 9TH ST. NW. FREE. (202) 633-7970.