Having its origin in the 1960s, Land Art--also known as Earth Art, Earthworks, or Environmental Art--is a largely sculpture-based movement in which physical or conceptual elements of a natural landscape are integrated into the finished work. Often these pieces are characterized by their monumental scale and outdoor setting, drawing the user out of the traditional gallery or museum space (and by association, the commercial sphere). However, artists associated with Land Art also create work that be displayed in a commercial setting, either through photography, installation pieces, or other mediums.
Driven by a preoccupation with scientific phenomena and a sensitivity to the natural world, Land Art--a movement populated mainly by male artists--found its origins in such diverse influences as the "social sculptures" of Joseph Beuys and mystical ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Native American "Serpent Mound" in Ohio. An early show that brought the movement to prominence was "Earthworks," a 1968 group exhibition at New York's Dwan Gallery that featured Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, Carl Andre, Herbert Bayer, Stephen Kaltenbach, Claes Oldenburg, and Sol LeWitt. Among the pieces on view were five bins of limestone that Robert Smithson had gathered at a New Jersey mineral dump, and a mound of dirt strewn across the gallery floor by Morris.
But the most influential examples of Land Art are the majestic works that the artists created outdoors, often buying plots of land and using earth-moving machinery to create monuments that are intended to evolve, erode, or change with the natural environment over time. Robert Smithson's 1970 Spiral Jetty, perhaps the best-known work, is a 15-foot-wide coil of black basalt rock and earth stretching out into Utah's Great Salt Lake. Entirely concealed when the water level rises and then revealed when it drops, the jetty is constantly degrading through a natural process of entropy--making it a challenge to preserve. Another ambitious work, Michael Heizer's 1968 Nine Nevada Depressions, is a series of giant curved, zigzagging trenches carved intermittently into the earth over some 520 miles of land.
While predominantly an American movement, Land Art was also embraced in England by such artists as Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. In addition to the artists mentioned, other key Land Artists include Nancy Holt, Alice Aycock, Andrew Rogers, Jan Dibbets, Neil Jenney, David Medalla, and Gunther Uecker.
Watch an excerpt of Rivers and Tides, a documentary about the lyrical, environmentally-sensitive art of Andy Goldsworthy:(read less)
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