Land Art, also called Earth Art, Environmental Art or Earthworks, is primarily a sculptural movement encompassing creative work that integrates physical or conceptual elements of the landscape into the finished piece. The most famous of these are often known as much for their monumental scale as for the intrinsic qualities of the artwork itself.
The fact that nearly all of the first wave of artists achieving notoriety in the form were male, and worked in a manner that was both invasive and transformative, gave the movement a reputation for having a core of testosterone driven ego.
Land Art's most articulate spokesman was Robert Smithson, whose Spiral Jetty has become emblematic of the genre. While other artists accused him of promoting himself more than the movement, his lucid definition of the conceptual basis for the work provided an appealing face and voice to a new art form.
Listed below are links to satellite and topographic imagery of the best known large earthworks, both old and new, still extant in the continental United States, as well as a few significant smaller scale pieces. The images provide a sense of comparative scale; the topographic views provide a sense of the terrain; and the geophysical coordinates provide a sense of their proximal relationship.
Two aligned cuts on the edge of Mormon Mesa, near Overton, Nevada. Thirty feet wide and fifty feet deep, joined by the negative space between them for a total length of 1500 feet. While other large-scale earthworks had previously been created, some by Heizer himself, this was the first of the physically monumental Land Art projects
A jetty arm of fill dirt and rock extends into the Great Salt Lake where it curls into a tight circular spiral. Built when the lake was unusually low, it has only been above water level a few times since it was built.
In the remote high desert of western New Mexico, northeast of the small town of Quemado, are four hundred pointed, vertical steel poles arrayed in a 25 by 16 grid, one mile long by one kilometer wide. The sculpture was designed to be viewed over an extended period of time, across changing weather and light. One of the best known and most uniformly praised Land Art examples.
Google now has high resolution images of this area. Not only can the cabin be seen, but the walking path tracing the perimeter of the artwork is also clearly visible!
Five animal forms built on reclaimed land in the Illinois river. The forms echo ancient mounds indigenous to the region and are large enough to be mostly unrecognizable when viewed from ground level.
This naked-eye observatory, a kind of modern Stonehenge, is designed to illustrate the 26,000 year precession of the Earth on its axis as represented by the location and path of Polaris, the Pole star, through different eras. Other portions of the structure illustrate the movement of stars in an hour and the position of the sun at the equinox and solstices. The site is still under construction and closed to the general public. Although tours are rare--two were held in 2013--requests can be made through the official website.
Since 1972, James Turrell has carved passages, rooms and observatories within an extinct volcano twenty-five miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Turrell's oeuvre is concerned with the effects and variations of light. As the project is nearing completion, an official site has emerged containing pictures of the incredible spaces within.
Slowly approaching its completion after more than thirty years, Michael Heizer's enourmous masterwork evokes Modernist architectures filtered through the pre-Columbian structures he visited in his youth with his father, anthropologist Dr. Robert Heizer. While Heizer's health problems have hampered his ability to work on this piece, his passion for it seems to burn just as hot and inspire those around him to bring it to conclusion. Destined by its evocative form and sheer size to be one of the crowning achievements of the Land Art movement.
Do NOT attempt to visit this site without prior permission.
One of many works (such as the Cadillac Ranch) commissioned by Stanley Marsh, a wealthy Amarillo land owner and art patron. Smithson, as well as a pilot and a photographer, died in a 1972 plane crash while surveying this site. The project was completed from his notes and drawings by his widow, Nancy Holt, with the help of Richard Serra and others.
In 1974, the Ant Farm collaborative art group was commissioned by Stanley Marsh, a wealthy Texas land owner, to create something interesting for his property. The resulting piece both honors and lampoons the materialistic car culture of the fifties and its love affair with the tail fin. Each Cadillac body style from 1949 to 1963 is represented in chronological order, half buried nose-first in this field on the western outskirts of Amarillo..
Five miles southeast of Lucin, four large, recumbent concrete cylinders line up by pairs to view the Summer and Winter solstices. Holes through the upper surface allow sunlight to project simulated constellations into the cylinders.
A progressive arrangement of boulders from the Hartford, CT area. Each rank of the arrangement contains more, smaller stones. The geological nature of the rocks proportionally reflects their distribution within the region. Although critically appreciated, this sculpture continues to draw public ridicule, as it did when it was first installed.
Concentric earthen mounds and terraces highlight this land reclaimation project in the suburban Seattle area.
This construction, on the west side of Battery Park in New York City, creates a pastoral, interactive transition zone between the water of the Hudson River and the city's urban landscapes.
Seismic Earthwork, Temporary Installation
"Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork (PIEQF) is a geologically interactive, kinetic earthwork that has been installed in the township of Parkfield, Central California. This machine controlled earthwork is triggered by near real-time reported Californian earthquakes from Magnitude M 0.1 and above."
(quoted by permission from the artist's website)
*Technically, this artwork is outside the scope of the page because it was a temporary installation and now, like Christo's environmental pieces, only exists in documentation. But I'm intrigued with the way this piece twists the notion of Earth art and think it deserves some recognition. This 'changing the rules whenever I want to' is the nice part of having my own website.
Copyright ©2011 Don Seeley/Daring Designs. Reproduction permitted when this source is credited.