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Land art, also known as earth art, is created directly in the landscape by sculpting it or by building natural-material structures there. The environmental movement's beginnings and the widespread commoditization of American art in the late 1960s had an impact on ideas and works that were, to varied degrees, alienated from the art market. The movement was a development of Conceptualism and Minimalism.
The art movement's main concerns were its opposition to the commercialization of the arts and its enthusiasm for the newly emerging ecology movement. The prevalence of the anti-urban sentiment and its countervailing passion for country life coincided with the art movement. Spiritual aspirations for the Earth to serve as humanity's home were among these impulses.
A process-based method of creating art where the artist would go on excursions into the surrounding environment to either collect objects or carry out site-specific interventions quickly evolved from what had initially started as a trend in sculpture to incorporate natural materials like dirt, rocks, and plants. While some artists created temporary, limited interventions in the landscape, others used mechanical earthmoving equipment to create their earthworks. For presentation in galleries, artists frequently used photographs, films, and maps to document their earthworks. Additionally, by combining organic elements from the environment into sculptures and installations, land artists created land art in the galleries.
History of Land Art
Land art was a protest against the "ruthless commercialization" of art in America throughout the 1960s and 1970s. However, photographic documentation was frequently displayed in conventional gallery spaces. During this time, proponents of land art rejected the museum or gallery as the setting for artistic activity and created monumental landscape projects that were outside the scope of traditional transportable sculpture and the commercial art market. Minimalist and conceptual art, as well as contemporary trends like De Stijl, Cubism, minimalism, and the works of Constantin Brâncuși and Joseph Beuys, served as inspiration for Land art.
The first Land art was created at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture by Douglas Leichter and Richard Saba in 1967, according to art critic Grace Glueck's article in The New York Times. The sudden emergence of Land art in 1968 can be attributed to a generation of artists, most of whom were in their late 20s, who were responding to the year's increased political activism as well as the rapidly growing environmental and women's liberation movements.
An example of land art that served as a means of publicly identifying a group of pioneering artists was a 1968 group show named "Earthworks" held at the Dwan Gallery in New York. "Earthworks" displayed the documentation of site-specific projects by artists such Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, and Stephen Kaltenbach since some of the artists in the exhibition were having trouble finding appropriate land for their site-specific work. Through maps, photos, transparencies, and drawings, the exhibition cataloged how their work was conceptualized. Ironically, despite these artists' efforts to reject conventional institutions, they frequently had to accept funding from them in order to develop their projects.
Robert Smithson perhaps was the best-known artist who works in this genre. As a response to Modernism's disengagement from social issues, his 1968 essay "The Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects" offered a critical framework for the movement. The Spiral Jetty (1970), which Smithson created as a long (1500 ft) spiral-shaped jetty sticking out into Great Salt Lake in northern Utah, the United States, is his most well-known and likely most famous piece of land art. How much of the work, if any, is visible depends on the changing water levels.
The first American museum to present an exhibition of Earth art, simply titled Earth Art, was the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in February 1969. The artworks were on view at the museum as well as all over Cornell University's Ithaca campus, providing a venue for pieces that would later continue to challenge the status of art as a commodity, particularly those installations that blurred the lines between an object's context and its surroundings.
The recession had a significant impact on Earth art financing in the middle of the 1970s. Many artists relied on sponsors to pay for pricey parcels of land so they could finish large-scale works. The movement lost one of its most significant figures when Robert Smithson died in an aircraft crash in 1973, and it ended up. Those whose reputations were built on Earth art, like De Maria, Heizer, Morris, and Andre, changed the focus of their work in order to fit institutional and gallery settings. Although conceptually unrelated to the avant-garde works of the pioneers of land art, the word "land art" has entered the mainstream of public art and is sometimes misused to describe any form of art in nature.
Land Art Key Artists
Robert Smithson (1938-1973)
The pioneering work of Robert Smithson must be included in any analysis of land art. In order to create three-dimensional sculptural compositions, he started combining various materials. This led to a series of "non-sites" works, in which sculptures made of earth and rocks that were brought back from expeditions were placed inside of galleries. These sculptures frequently included maps, bins, mirrors, glass, and neon. Smithson's earthworks Spiral Jetty (1970), Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971), and Amarillo Ramp (1973) are his most famous creations (1973). By completely removing art from the gallery context and integrating it into the natural terrain, he forever altered preconceived concepts of sculptural form in contemporary art.
Andy Goldsworthy (born 1956)
Andy Goldsworthy is a well-known land art sculptor and photographer who works in and with nature. His output can be classified into permanent and temporary projects. The latter are designed to vanish at the end of the life cycle and are constructed from organic and transient components. He creates a number of repetitive designs, including spirals, circles, and snaking lines, out of branches, leaves, rocks, and ice. The ephemerality at the center of these initiatives is a reflection of a fragile ecology and a continually changing natural environment.
Nancy Holt (1938-2014)
Despite being overshadowed by her famous husband, Robert Smithson, Holt created a body of work that was unique from his and had more futuristic overtones. Some of Holt's best work is hardly there when using a leave-no-trace strategy. Holt recognized the link between art and eco-activism earlier and more clearly than the other Land Artists.
Maya Lin (born 1959)
One of the most recognizable sights is Washington, D.C.'s Maya Lin-designed Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her signature was the use of a simple, low-slung wall to follow the contours of the surrounding terrain. Her minimalist approach to public art entails adding something that appears to have been added afterwards but nevertheless fits in.
Her outdoor installations feature little, hardly perceptible swells of earth that might go unnoticed if one is not looking at them from a great height or a great distance. Her latest attention has been on indoor sculptures, which intellectually and visually evoke the rolling terrain of far-off geographic areas and preserve an implied environmental concern.
Ana Mendieta (1948-1985)
An influential figure in the development of Land Art, particularly in how the human body interacts with and returns to nature, was the Cuban feminist artist Ana Mendieta. Mendieta produced over 200 pieces using her body and the earth as the medium for her provocative sculptures. Her work is multi-layered, deeply philosophical, and related to various art traditions, including conceptualism, land art, performance and body art. Mendieta established herself as a pioneer of earth art through her photo and video series Silueta (1973–1980). In order to demonstrate the unbreakable bond between the planet and human nature, the artist sculpted her body into several landscapes for her project.
Walter De Maria (1935-2013)
In his sculptures, installations, and land works, Walter de Maria employed geometric forms to produce a succession of repetitions that explored the link between the relative and the absolute. Lighting Field (1977), his best-known piece of land art, is a grid of one-mile by one-kilometer squares that was put in a remote part of the New Mexico desert. Four hundred poles made of polished stainless steel that are over twenty feet tall and have pointed tips that define a horizontal plane - the point of attraction for lightning strikes - make up the grid. The visitor can enter the grid physically or observe it from a distance, in a series of powerful optical illusions that vary with time and space, art, landscape, and nature collide.
Michael Heizer (born 1944)
Michael Heizer has been a significant figure in the land art movement. He is renowned for his ability to construct large-scale works and explore the interplay between positive and negative space. Beginning his artistic career with a series of curved canvases he called "negative painting." In the late 1960s, he created his first negative land piece, which was “North, East, South, and West”. This project was his first attempt at large-scale earthwork, and it was made out of a collection of holes with geometric shapes that were dug in the Sierra Nevada desert.
Richard Long (born 1945)
In the late 1960s, the artist began his direct interaction with nature by using his stroll as a medium, motivated by a desire to use the landscape in new ways. Long attempted to subvert the language and aspirations of art and bring it to a more basic, intimate, and fundamental level through a sequence of repetitive gestures or protracted solo walks. His goal was to exemplify in himself the possibilities of an unadulterated conversation between man and environment. Time, space, and distance are the subjects of this groundbreaking conceptual land art project, and they are expanded to a massive scale.
Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)
Along with Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Walter De Maria, Robert Smithson, and Oppenheim, the first generation of Land artists included Oppenheim. In the 1960s, they created this brand-new genre of art using the earth itself as the medium. Oppenheim's early interventions into the natural world, in contrast to those of many of his contemporaries, took the form of removal, going back to the traditional sculptural principle of carving by, in the artist's own words, "taking away rather than adding." Geopolitical boundaries, time zones, and natural degradation are only a few examples of the social and natural systems that are referenced and highlighted in Annual Rings (1968), a site-specific work. Reproducing the map serves to demonstrate how mapping plays a part in creating unnatural and frequently violent borders between states and the river, a natural border, serves as a tool for these international borders.
Oppenheim questioned "the relative values of the ordering systems by which we live" by juxtaposing natural elements with artificial ideas such as nationhood and time zones. At the same time, earth artists like Robert Smithson and Walter de Maria were also producing site-specific Earthworks where natural environments were put in conflict with artificial interventions.
Land Artists Quotes
"The names of minerals and the minerals themselves do not differ from each other, because at the bottom of both the material and the print is the beginning of an abysmal number of fissures. Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void.”
“I am not a performer but occasionally I deliberately work in a public context. Some sculptures need the movement of people around them to work.”
“Even in winter an isolated patch of snow has a special quality.”
"You are a small speck in this vast space.”
“Art is very tricky because it's what you do for yourself. It's much harder for me to make those works than the monuments or the architecture. ”
"My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy, which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy. My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world.”
Walter De Maria
"I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience."
"Every good work should have at least ten meanings.”
“A strong work of art really leaves people speechless. They feel a little angry because they don't understand it.”
“A sculpture, a map, a photograph; all the forms of my work are equal and complementary. The knowledge of my actions, in whatever form, is the art. My art is the essence of my experience, not a representation of it.”
“Most of my work comes from ideas. I can usually do only a few versions of each idea. Land Art and Body Art were particularly strong concepts which allowed for a lot of permutations. But nevertheless, I found myself wanting to move onward into something else.”
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