Land art
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded
Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami,
Florida, 1980-83
As we saw with Conceptual and Pop art, the idea of the art object as a unique
object, and questions about the importance of the IDEA behind art, were
around from the 1960s . Another artform was Earth Art (aka land art, or earth
works) which involved using materials of the earth and creating the work out
in the environment; getting away from an art object in a gallery that could be
bought and sold. (Andy Goldsworthy is a contemporary version of this.) An
early pioneer was Robert Smithson (US, 1938-1973.) Smithson was interested
in creating art that was part of the earth itself.
Aerial view
Spiral Jetty, 1970, black basalt rock
and local earth, Great Salt Lake
Utah USA. 457m long x 45m wide.
Native American Bear Mound Effigy Ceremony
How have artists interacted with the land (or the idea of land) in the past?
Romanticism looked at the power and terror of the natural world, and the
relative powerlessness of humanity. (To some, this could speak of the power of
God.) This awe-inspiring aspect of Nature was called the Sublime.
Theodore Gericault (French,
1791-1824) The raft of the
Medusa, 1819, oil on canvas,
491 x 716cm
More terror from Nature: JMW Turner: Snowstorm: Hannibal and his army
crossing the Alps, 1812.
The French Impressionists responded to the increasingly urban
environment; or else depicted the middle classes at leisure. Either
way, the landscape tended to be the ordered backdrop to
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Boating on the
Seine, c.1879
Claude Monet, Wheatstacks, midday,
The Australian Impressionists suggested the rightness and nobility
of taming of the land…the idea that mankind was in charge, so all is
well. The civilising influence of mankind.
Arthur Streeton, Golden Summer Eaglemont 1889
The Surrealists used the landscape as a symbol of the unconscious
mind, or a dreamscape.
Giorgio De Chirico, The Red
Tower, 1913. Here De Chirico
creates his ‘theatrical’ scape.
Walter De Maria (US, b. 1935): Lightning field, 1977
This installation is in a remote desert location in New Mexico USA. 400
stainless steel poles are laid out in a grid 1 mile x 1 km. They are approx 6
metres high and embedded so that their tops are all on a flat plane.
The area receives frequent lightning
strikes, average 60 days per year
which is one of the reasons it was
chosen. It is beautiful to be seen at
any time though; best at dusk and
dawn as the poles are most visible
then. Only 6 people are allowed
onsite at any one time, and they have
to pay to go out there and stay
overnight. It is only open for several
months of the year and is several
hours drive from nearest town.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not use natural earth-based materials (and
in fact they don’t use the title ‘Land art’, preferring ‘Environmental Art.’
Ok then.) They use industrially-produced materials, which they are careful
to recycle after their works are taken down. They interact with both
natural and man-made structures with site-specific installations, that is,
structures/artworks/creations that respond specifically and uniquely to a
certain site.
Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle
Colorado, 1972. The curtain is 381m wide,
and from 55 to 110m high.
Try to imagine how this would have
looked, if you were there in person.
How might we respond to this work?
In Wrapped Trees, the billowing fabric and it’s qualities of opacity or
transparency create interesting forms, and encourage us to consider
the subject in a new way. In an interesting contrast with, say the work
of Jackson Pollock, they are interested in their work being ‘… a work of
joy and beauty…’ (Christo & Jeanne-Claude website.) Using the
conceptual framework, how could we describe this attitude?
Wrapped trees, Riehen Switzerland, 1998 – two views
In 1969, Christo and Jeanne-Claude came to Australia to do their first big wrap
project. At the time this was the largest artwork ever constructed. It covered a 2.4
km stretch of coastline and cliff face in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, on the
grounds of Prince Henry Hospital. The project was made possible by John Kaldor
Professional mountain climbers as
well as artists, teachers and art and
architecture students were employed
over 4 weeks to make it happen. It
stayed up for 10 weeks.
Wrapped coast, one million square
feet, Little Bay Australia, 1969
C & J-C do lecture tours about their
work. This is actually regarded as part of
the work. They raise money by selling
the preparatory sketches and
lithographs of drawings of their work.
They fund all their own projects and do
not take any sponsorships or grant
funding. It is very important to them to
remain completely independent with
regard to where and what they do.
Obviously, they have to work in with
governments and all sorts of
bureaucracies to get the projects done.
Again, this is part of the artwork. Many
projects don’t get actually made
because they don’t get permission.
Others can take years to come together
(Wrapped Trees took 32 years and was
planned for various other venues before
they got the Swiss to agree.)
The Gates, Central Park NYC, 2005
HSC Short answer question
Q: Apply the structural frame to
describe techniques used in Plate 1.
Plate 1: Sarah Fordham, (b . 1974, Australian) Pokeepskie, 2007, acrylic, oil and enamel paint
on canvas, 120 x 90cm
Christo & Jeanne-Claude:
Felicity Fenner, ‘The Nature of Art’, Art and Australia, Autumn 2007, Vol 44, no.3
Robert Smithson:
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC:
Richard Long:
Andy Goldsworthy:

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