Elaine McCaffrey

EARTH "Land is really the best art."- Andy Warhol
"A strong work of art really leaves people speechless. They feel a little angry because they don't understand it." - Micheal Heizer

Ancient cultures has frequently used earthworks to express themselves throughout history long before the invention of the term "art".


Earth Art became a large movement in America and Britain in the 18th century with artists such a Nacy Holt, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, and Walter De Maria all participating in creating new way to view art. These pieces tend to be monumental and ecological themes. It uses the natural landscape to create a site- specific structures, art forms, and sculptures. This movement began from expanding conceptualism and minimalism. The beginnings of the environmental movement and the new commercialism of the American art in the late 1960's influenced these artists, leading them to create works that were, to varying degrees. Ignored the art market to created something that will last for a long time.

In addition to the monumentality and simplicity of Minimalist objects, the artists were drawn to the humble everyday materials of Arte Povera and the "social sculptures" of Joseph Beuys that stressed performance and creativity in any environment.

The name “Earth Works” was originally the title of a show at New York's Swan Gallery in 1968 that launched this movement by showing photographs, diagrams and texts about pieces.

The most favored materials for the Earthwork artists are the materials that could be extracted directly from the Earth(stone, water, gravel, and soil) utilizing the materials that are already on the site on which their works were constructed and placed, honoring the specificity of the site. The Earth Art movement was influenced by prehistoric artworks such as Stonehenge, the goal for these artist is to exposed their structures to elements and natural forces of the Earth(such as wind, rain, snow, etc.) The slowly disintegration of the works makes these pieces different from the others that sit in a museum with un- natural lighting, and that's exactly what the artists are striving for, not to be protected in controlled environments.

These art works defied the transition of art works being in a gallery or museum spaces. By creating their works outside of these institutional, Earth artists challenged the traditional definitions of art as something to be bought and sold for profit. It is something to be shared and appreciated with all people no matter what social status they are in. “Happiness is only real when shared”.

The Trouble Makers of the Art World

Michael Heizer Double Negative (Clark, Nevada) (1969-70)

"The type of work I like is pure and simple and profound."- Mucheal Heizer
In 1969 Michael Heizer began the construction of the massive work of art with financial assistance from Virginia Dwan. Cutting through 240,000 tons of rhyolite and sandstone from cliffs to create two massive trenches in Nevada on the eastern edge of the mormon Mesa, north west of Overton, Nevada. A 3 mile wide Roden Crater in Arizona was transformed into a naked-eye observatory.
Double Negative directly relates to the context of art history and architecture, touching upon megalithic ancient monuments as well as modern feats of engineering in the industrial age.
The work required a great deal of labor, it consists of negative space; it is basically a 1,500-foot-long canyon into which a viewer would enter to be surrounded on three sides by 50-foot walls of earth. Its site-specificity and remoteness are typical of Earth art, as few viewers would be able to visit it. Its presence in the open air of the desert also means that it is subject to the environment and will eventually disintegrate. Overwhelming the spectator with the great size of this art piece when they step foot into the trench. It makes them feel small and realize how small they are to nature and the rest of the world thus connecting this work to Minimalism as well.DN_9-after-completion.jpg
"Artwork is not like a commercial business; there is no such thing as a schedule for art. You can't hurry art." - Micheal Heizer

Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty (Great Salt Lake, Utah) (1970)

"Parks are idealizations of nature, but nature in fact is not a condition of the ideal."
Spiral_Jetty_03.jpgMoving more than 6000 tonnes of rock from the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah Robert Smithson constructed a 1640-foot long coil of basalt and rubble that jutted into the water. In its geometric form, heroic scale, isolated location and ecological concerns( the area has been affected by a oil prospectors). Robert Smithson, picked damaged sites for his works in order to suggest renewal and rebirth, because he was buddhist. The ideas of “site-specificity” was something that made Earth art become revolutionary in the art world.
Smithson’s masterpiece validated the Earth Art movement.
Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty is one of the most recognizable works from the Earth art movement. In 1972, when the water level rose, the work became submerged due to Smithsons false calculating.
Thirty years later, as the lake's water levels changed, Spiral Jetty became visible again, revealing the basalt rock crusted over with white salt. Spiral Jetty as a whole was a typical piece of the Earth art protest against the conformity of the art market since it was impossible to buy or sell the work. The work of art that was not only remote, but also at times impossible to view because of the forces of nature.



Nancy Holt Sun Tunnels (Great Basin Desert, Utah) (1973-76)

“It is a very desolate area, but it is totally accessible, and it can be easily visited, making Sun Tunnels more accessible really than art in museums. Eventually, as many people will see Sun Tunnels as would see many works in a city – in a museum anyway.”

Positioning four gigantic concrete hollow cylinders, each measuring nine feet in
diameter, Nancy Holt arranged her tunnels at geographical points to correspond with the sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices, much like Stonehenge. Fascinated by astronomy, Holt punctured the cylinders with holes of differing sizes to create shadows of select constellations. Like some other Earth artists, Holt had a significant interest in science and ecology.

Sun Tunnels closely examines the physical qualities of perception, marking accurate positions of the sun on the horizon and allowing light to filter through the starry holes according to the position of available light.

Her research-based practice and interest in remote locales connected Holt not only to other artists working in this mode, but also to the Conceptual interest in the intersection of art and ideas. The work is not meant to disintegrate as the majority of Earthworks, but it draws attention to the details of nature in a site-specific and remote locale.

Walter De Maria The Lightning Field (1977)
"I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience"

Land Art also introduced man- made material into the environment to highlight and evoke natural forms and processes. Installing 400 steel poles in remote New Mexico to help conduct lightning Maria studding became different from any any the other Earth Art artist because he was not using natural materials.
This work consists of 400 poles that are each set 220 feet apart in a grid format. The height of the piece varies from 15 to 26 feet depending on the level of the land. Their primary function is to attract lightning, especially during lightning storm season in late summer when
storm-lighting-field-1366x768.jpg strikes the rods and illuminates the installation.

De Maria's use of a precise grid format is drawn from Minimalism, but the viewer's experience will depend on a number of environmental factors outside of the artist's control.The work's visual impact is based on weather and the change of seasons, the piece would lose much of its attraction at times of the year when lightning is infrequent.

As with most Earthworks, the site is remote and viewing is made more difficult by the requirement for viewers to stay overnight at cabins on site; no children are allowed. Much like Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, De Maria's work pairs fleeting moments of nature with the heroic materials of man made industry.

Works Cited:

Phillips, Sam. "Land Art." --Isms: Understanding Modern Art. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Schneckenburger, Manfred, Klaus Honnef, Ingo F. Walther, and Christiane Fricke. Art of the 20th Century. Koln, Germany: Taschen, 2005. Print.

"Monumental Land Art." Of the United States. Don Seeley/Daring Designs, 2011. Web. 08 June 2016.

Harris, Beth, and Steven Zucker. "Smithson, Spiral Jetty." Khan Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.

TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART. Dir. James Crump and Philippe Vergne. DCC NYC. HBO Documentary Flims, n.d. Web. 8 June 2016. <http://www.docnyc.net/film/troublemakers-the-story-of-land-art/#.V1jgX2NlnR0>.