24 April 2012

Land Art


Andy Goldsworthy

“The medium (and the message) is Mother Earth herself.”
--Grace Glueck

I am learning to differentiate between art that is made in nature, art that is made out of natural materials, art that is made to represent nature, and art that directly protects or influences a natural system. A preliminary google search on Land Art yields too much information to explore in a short overview such as this, but I have done my best to conduct a thorough survey of the most prominent artists in this arena, and have highlighted several of them below.

For detailed, debatable definitions, read these wikipedia entries:
And here is an interesting article on definitions:

In his book, Land Art, author Michael Lailach presents the Land Art movement as a radical departure from the last 2000 years of art history, in that the art is made without intention toward indoor display. Of course outdoor public sculpture has always been popular, but Land Art, as labeled by Gerry Schum in his 1969 television special on the topic, is something new.

Christo and Jeanne Claude
Land Art is art that changes (and often disappears) the way life does. This is fascinating to me because I have always thought of my art as my legacy, and of the works I leave behind as the replacement for the children I have chosen not to have. The idea of making art that is designed to disappear is simultaneously terrifying and inspiring.

The primary curiosity of this kind of art (and also, perhaps, its power) is the fact that it is so difficult to show it in a gallery. Some artists seem to prefer it that way, eschewing gallery politics and making bold statements about the way humans interact with art, nature, and each other, such as Walter De Maria’s famous quote “God has given us the earth, and we have ignored it. ”  (page 15)

When De Maria was commissioned to create a show for an upscale gallery in Munich in 1978, he filled the entire gallery with dirt and barricades visitors from entering. This was a statement about the way the natural world is barricaded from our upscale gallery culture.


Other artists have employed photography to document, show, and sell their work, to the extent that there is much debate over whether it is the photography that is actually the artwork, the sculpture itself, or a combination of the two. Either way, it is clear to me that if you are going to make ephemeral arts, it helps to know something about photography and/or to work with a talented photographer.

Nils Udo
Of course not all land artists make ephemeral art. I am finding that the major split between styles of land and environmental artists is whether their work is ephemeral, meant to decay and disappear with nature, and thus primarily dependent upon photography and media to be seen, or whether the work is permanent sculpture-like installations, meant to be seen as they are. Some of these artists set up the photographs by arranging natural materials. Others bring in outside materials to blend with the natural setting. There is much cross-over and, although some of the artists below seem to be mimicking the work of Andy Goldsworthy, they each have something unique to offer.

In an effort to assimilate and develop an awareness of what I have been learning, I developed a directory of the movers and shakers in the Land and Environmental Arts community. I have listed ephemeral artists first, followed by sculptors who do permanent and semi-permanent, public work, followed by nature photographers whose primary medium is photography and not sculpture/land art.
Ephemeral artists:

Ana Mendieta
Known for pressing her body against the earth and taking photographs of it, murdered Cuban radical Ana Mendieta's work stands out as being one of the only land artists making a distinctly feminist statement.

A pioneer of site specific, ephemeral work, Andy Goldsworthy makes his art all over the world. He documents the deterioration of the pieces, and writes haiku and essays that relate to the work. He speaks often of daily practice, and about giving the art as a gift to nature.

Best known for planting a wheatfield in Manhattan in 1982, Agnes Denes has done several projects that unite gardening, art, and politics.

Agnes Denes
Brad Schwede
A multimedia artist who sometimes makes ephemeral art, Brad Schwede points out in his writing that Land Art helps to take humans out of the center of the picture.

Semi-ephemeral arts, focused on elaborate rock works that incorporate balance, composition, and wonder.

Large scale semi-ephemeral works as well as gallery pieces and stone structures.

Brightly-colored fabric wrappings and drapings around the world.

Subtle, sometimes tiny, fragile sculptures, photographed to include shadow, light, contrast with the backround. A delightfully interdisciplinary approach.

Jean-Yves Piffard
Gabriele Menegazzi
Joyful, whimsical work that makes me think about faeries and gnomes.

Lots of sculptures involving massive amounts of red fabric. Striking and beautiful work from a prolific South African feminist.

The “walking artist,” Hamish Fulton organizes walking-based creative events. His website is enchanting and illustrates the connection between walking, worship, and art.

French ephemeralist/photographer. I like the way he divides his work into elemental categories. It gave me an idea to write a poem and then make a piece of ephemeral art to accompany each word.


Prolific French ephemeral artist and photographer.

Richard Schilling
Ephemeral artist and photographer. He writes a great blog, and his fine line project combines international adventure climbing with sculpture, photography and ecology.

Bavarian artist focused on creating “potential utopias.” This work interests me greatly—the idea that we can set up spaces with found materials that would be delightful places in which to live. (Hm. Sounds a lot like permaculture ;-)
Nobuo Sekine
Abstract Japanese artist.

Ephemeral artist/photographer.

Famous British land artist known for walking art and use of archetypal shapes and natural materials.

World traveler and fellow blogger Richard Shilling combines poetry with ephemeral art and travel writing.

Another ephemeral artist/nature photographer, doing beautiful, site-specific work.

Imaginative artist with an activist bent. I especially like his Selva Vertical, in which he plans to grow gardens up the sides of abandoned skyscrapers.

Vik Muniz
Vik Muniz
Vik Muniz makes giant mosaics out of trash and photographs them from above. The result is a mind-boggling commentary on waste, politics, and passion.

Permanent/semi permanent artists/sculptors/placemakers:

Alan Sonfist
Using pigments, leaves, seeds and other materials from the site, Alan Sonfist creates paintings and sculptures that reflect his environment.

Alice Aycock
Abstract, geometric sculptures.

Andrew Rogers
Andrew Rogers
Andrew Rogers has traveled to over 15 countries to collaborate with local communities and co-create large scale land art.

Beaumont’s focus is to use art as a tool for solving problems in other areas. Her underwater sculpture, “Ocean Landmark” has become a living, productive ecosystem.

Beverly Pepper
Monolithic sculptures in public places around the world.

Bill Vazan
Concerned with the human-cosmos relationship, Vazan paints "cosmological shadows" on rocks and trees.

Charles Ross
His epic project "Star Axis" is a naked-eye observatory that has taken a lifetime to complete.

Lynne Hull
Christy Rupp
Multimedia artist doing a wide range of environmental work.

Deanna Pindell
Site-specific, multimedia environmental artist and community activist.

Eberhard Bosslet
Site-specific sculptor.

Harvey Fite
His Opus 40 is a 7-acre stone sculpture that attracts visitors from around the world.

James Turrell 
Best known for his work with Roden Crater, a volcanic crater that Turrell is transforming into a naked-eye observatory.

John K. Melvin
Patrick Dougherty
Sculptor using a wide range of found objects and post-industrial materials.

Lynne Hull
Emphasizing "trans-species" art, Lynne Hull is setting examples for using art to interact with nature. I find her work deeply inspiring and profoundly beautiful.

Maya Lin
Using art and architecture to create large-scale public sculpture based on natural shapes in the landscape.

Milton Becerra
Milton Becerra's work seems almost primitive, tribal. Stone carvings, ephemera, paintings, sculptures.

Nancy Holt
Writer, artist and filmmaker Nancy Holt has tranfsormed ugly public spaces into contemplative interactive art works.
Red Earth

Patrick Dougherty
I first heard about Patrick Dougherty several years ago when learning about ecological building techniques. His whimsical, fantastic sculptures were featured in the film Where the Wild Things Are.

Red Earth
Combining performance, installation, and ephemeral art to build community in different places around the world.


Robert Smithson
One of the originators of the Land Art movement, Smithson's Spiral Jetty remains intact.

Seitu Jones
Known primarily as a political artist, Seitu Jones' work representing Collard Greens brings ecological awareness to communities.

Urs P. Twellman
Robert Smithson
Semi-permanent and public sculptures emphasizing wood as a medium.

Walter de Maria
His installation of 400 steel rods made Lightning Field into the most electricified work of art in history.


The Dia Art Foundation supports several of these artists, including some of my favorites. As far as favorites go, this is not to say that I am not impressed in some way by all of this work. But there were a few artists who really stood out as being exemplary to the kind of work I would like to do, and who seemed especially engaged with their communities toward finding sustainable, joyful solutions together. I will definitely be doing further research on Agnes Denes, Andy Goldsworthy, Andrew Rogers, Jean-Yves Piffard, Lynne Hull, Patrick Dougherty, Robert Smithson, Red Earth, Walter de Maria, Nils Udo, Harvey Fite, and Vik Muniz.

I am interested in how permaculture, placemaking, and storytelling connect to the concept of Land Art, and how I can navigate these connections for my own work.

Here are some other interesting links:
Unforgettable Works of Environmental Art


Walter de Maria
Finally, here are some books that were useful to me in writing this article:


Dougherty, Patrick. Stickwork. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. Print. The author documents over two decades of traveling around, collecting saplings from local environments, and weaving giant nest-like sculptures in museums, schools, skyscrapers and sculpture parks. He is a good writer and makes many notes about process and personal relations. I enjoyed this book and envy his ability to focus, define himself as an artist, and work though obstacles.

Goldsworthy, Andy, and David Craig. Arch. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1999. Print. This is a short book of mostly photographs in which Andy Goldsworthy rebuilt the same arch in dozens of sites along a marked historical route in Ireland. I didn't totally get it.

Goldsworthy, Andy, and Terry Friedman. Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture, 1976-1990. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993. Print. This fascinating book contains photographs of artwork as well as essays about Goldsworthy from a wide range of other artists. What struck me the most was his prolificity from a young age, and his perseverance with tedious projects.

Goldsworthy, Andy. Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990. Print. Filled with captivating images of his most ephemeral work, accompanied by short poetic notes on process, weather, form; this book is a delightful and marketable work of art. Goldsworthy’s books are somewhat formulaic, though each slightly differs from the last. It is a good formula, and one that works. I looked at several of his books during this inquiry, and this was my favorite.

Kastner, Jeffrey, and Brian Wallis. Land and Environmental Art. London, New York, NY: Phaidon Press, 1998. Print. An overview of out-of-the-gallery work around the world. This book turned me on to the work of Ana Mendieta, whose work I admire.

Lailach, Michael, and Uta Grosenick. Land Art. Köln ; London: Taschen, 2007. Print. Basic Art Series; Variation: Basic Art Series. This succinct and well-organized primer gives an overview of significant Land Art projects, and provides an historical and political discussion of the Land Art movement and associated arenas. This work was extremely helpful to my studies, and gave me a dozen leads to pursue.


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