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Artists in the Landscape


Artists in the Landscape

Earth Artists, Minimal Artists, Environmental Artists

During the second half of the 1960’s artists – painters, sculptors and others, moved their talents outside of the studios, lofts and galleries into the landscape. Drawings and photographs are the evidence of the work that appeared in the traditional settings of the gallery. Often times the photographs and drawings were sold to raise money to fund the work. Most of the work that appeared in the environment was temporary, after time natural forces would reclaim the landscape, in most cases it was not ‘owned’ and could not be moved.

Much of the work has been called irrational, useless, pointless, and wasteful; however, the works in the landscape setting did make statements about man, about nature, about time.

Artists replaced their canvases with agricultural cropland, barren deserts, urban landscapes, waste sites, parking lots, frozen water bodies and other sites.


Michael Heizer

During 1967,1968 and 1969, Michael Heizer became one of the pioneers in earth art. In 1969, he created a work called displaced-replaced mass.

-displaced-replaced mass – granite boulders 30-52-70 tons from the High Sierra were placed into depressions cut in the Nevada Desert.

A later project called Double Negative was completed in 1971 in Nevada. Double Negative involved the removal of 240,000 tons of stone making two slices 30 feet wide by 50 feet deep on opposing sides of an existing canyon. The two slices in the canyon walls were aligned to imply a line between them. The form was minimal, in fact, it was about removal rather than making something.

The clear designation that separates Double Negative from earlier art, is that double negative is about space, rather than the object. At Double Negative one can actually occupy the space of the work, rather than move around or about it. The two slots in the sides of the canyon make the space between them understandable, more evident, or more tangible.

Later in his career, Michael Heizer began to do work that involved reclaiming landscapes. His work called Effigy Tumuli in Illinois is composed of 5 abstracted animal earthworks reclaiming the site of an abandoned surface coal mine. The five shapes (1983-1985) – a frog, a water strider, a catfish, a turtle, and a snake – reflect the environment of the site which overlooks the Illinois River. They are also a reflection of the ecological basis of the work as

reclamation. The water strider covers a length of nearly 700 feet, the frog nearly 350 feet.


Robert Smithson

In 1970, Robert Smithson created Spiral Jetty in the water along the Northeast shore of the Great Salt Lake, Utah. Spiral Jetty involved moving more than 6 thousand tons of earth and stone to make a spiral form 1500 feet long. The form recalls the shape of salt crystals and microscopic organisms of the lake. Spiral jetty certainly has as its precedent the ancient earth mounds, like those in the Ohio region.

Smithson leased 10 acres of land at the lake to make spiral Jetty.

Smithson described his sensations about the site as “to suggest an immobile cyclone” and “A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering stillness, into a spinning sensation without movement.” From that the form of Spiral Jetty evolved. Smithson also learned of legend that described an underground channel that connected the Salt lake to the ocean at a point in the middle of the lake that revealed itself as a whirlpool. The metaphor of the spiral worked at microscopic scale, larger scale and at the level of folklore.



Walter De Maria

In !968, Walter De Maria made a land drawing called Mile Long Drawing in the Mojave Desert, his first earthwork. De Maria’s work was typically less permanent or less intrusive on the landscape than Michael Heizer’s or Robert Smithson’s – somewhat ecologically minded.

In 1977, Walter De Maria created Lightning Field in New Mexico. Lightning field is a series of 400 stainless steel poles covering an area of one mile by approximately one kilometer. The tops of the poles are all at the same level, and the poles average a height of about 20 feet. The human population of the region is low and the incidence of lightning is high. The conditions were ideal to achieve a celebration of the power and magnificence of lightning.

The grid form of the rods and the one mile dimension, mark the space and recall the grid that organizes much of the United States. The orientation of the tops of the rods gives reference to the shape/ or topography of the land below, and the organization brings the sky and earth together.


Richard Long

Richard Long created Earthworks in Britain beginning in the mid to late 1960’s. His work was characterized by the way it dealt with the environment very delicately and occasionally only lasted long enough to be photographed. Walking a Line in Peru was completed in 1972 on one of the markings of the Nazca Plain made centuries earlier. Richard Long’s walks and stone re-organizations represent a very personal ritual with the landscape. His work, whether it be walking back and forth wearing a line in the soil, or creating lines or circles or spirals with stone or wood, serves to add another layer of cultural history to the landscape.



In 1972, Christo completed a project called Valley Curtain at Rifle Gap in Colorado. The work was an Orange Curtain that spanned 1300 feet across the Rifle Gap. It was destroyed by wind 28 hours after completion. Running Fence, possibly Christo’s most publicized project, was completed in 1976. Running Fence was a white nylon curtain 18 feet high and 24 and a half miles long running from the hills of Marin County to the Pacific Ocean. The wall of fabric ran across private land, across roads, across grazing land, and into the sea.

The cost of the project was 3 million dollars, raised by Christo through the sale of his drawings. Running Fence was important in at least two ways:

1. The white curtain expressed and revealed the California topography exposing, in a new way, the landscape of rolling hills.

2. The organization for the implementation of the project including:

-Environmental impact statements

-Agreement of landowners

-and cost/raising the money.

all revealing the interaction of humans with the landscape.

Christo’s work tends to be related to both ecology and monumentalism. His projects are huge and very evident, but when removed leave no trace that any intervention was ever made.

In 1983, Christo surrounded 11 islands near Miami with pink fabric, floating 200 feet around each island. The duration of the installation was to be 2 weeks. The work was expressive of the way in which people of the area live – “between land and water.”


Nancy Holt

Nancy Holt completed Sun Tunnels in 1976, in the Utah desert. Sun Tunnels is a composition of 4 concrete tubes, each 18 feet long and about 9 feet in diameter. the concrete tubes are oriented to the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice and the winter solstice. Holes in the tubes cast light during the day as an expression of star constellations. The Sun Tunnels offer some practical advantage – orientation within the landscape to the cardinal directions, and shelter from the sun of the desert.


James Turrell

James Turrell experiments with light – both artificial and natural. His work in the gallery demonstrates illusion that can be achieved with light, and how it may manipulate the perception of space.

Out of doors, James Turrell’s most significant project is one called Roden Crater (1980). The project involves and extinct volcanic cinder cone near Flagstaff Arizona. When complete, the project will be composed of 7 spaces connected by tunnels that deal with the perception of sun and moon light. The changing qualities of light will be revealed by the contours of the land and quality of light throughout the annual cycle.


Herbert Bayer

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks was completed in 1982 near Seattle. The project was for a storm water retention basin. During flood events the landforms are partially submerged.


Carl Andre

Stone Field Sculpture in Hartford Connecticut is an arrangement of 36 glacial boulders. The boulders seem to suggest an illusion of space – from one end a single large boulder becomes the foreground and subsequent organizations beyond it are composed of smaller stones of a higher number and greater space between the rows, forcing an extended perspective, the illusion that the space is larger than it is. From the opposite end the effect is the opposite. The stones also echo the cemetery nearby.


Beverly Pepper

Beverly Pepper’s site specific sculpture called Amphisculpture was completed in 1977 in New Jersey. It is an amphitheater that evokes imagery of the classical theaters of Greece as much as sculpture.


Robert Irwin

Nine Spaces/Nine trees was completed in 1983 in Seattle. The site was above a structure with low loading capacity. The location of the trees is directly above the support columns, benches surround the trees and blue semitransparent fencing creates 9 individual rooms as an outdoor plaza.

Filigreed line is another project by Robert Irwin on the campus of Wellesly College in Massachusetts. It is a stainless steel line in the landscape that reveals a number of the sites situations – the leaf pattern cut into the steel, the available light and shade, and the reflection of light off the water – are a few of those situations.


Mary Miss

The Battery Park South Cove project was a collaboration with the landscape architect Susan Childs, completed in 1988. The form is meant to recall the natural and historic aspects of the cove, the natural inlet – reinterpreting the context.


Mel Chin

Mel Chin’s project called revival field is a 60×60 foot square section of land contaminated by heavy metal. The work is an experiment for the removal of heavy metals from the soil by plants that store the toxins in their leaves. The form of the circle is a symbol of natures purity. The work also relates time and symbolically the four corners of the earth. The site is bound by barbed wire and marked with an X pattern.

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