Earth Art
The Art History Archive - Land Art


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By Charles Moffat - 2007.

Inspired by ancient monoliths like Stone Henge and America's mound builders (in combination with modernism and minimalism) artists in the late 1960s began creating "earth art" or "land art" using rock, wood and synthetic materials. One of the first was Walter De Maria's "Mile Long Drawing" in the Mojave Desert in 1968.

The works frequently existed in the open and are left to change and erode under natural conditions. Many of the works were temporary from the beginning, have since been destroyed and now only exist as photographic documents.

Spiral Jetty, the most famous of all earth art pieces, is considered to be the masterpiece of American sculptor Robert Smithson, is the name of an earthwork sculpture built in 1970.

Built of mud, salt crystals,basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1500-foot long and 15-foot wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake.

At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a recent drought, the jetty re-emerged in 1999 and is now completely exposed. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 due to a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again.

Originally black rock against ruddy water, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.

Examples of Earth Art:

Walter De Maria - Mile Long Drawing, Mojave Desert - 1968

Christo Javacheff - Wrapped Coast, Australia - 1969

Michael Heizer - Complex One Nevada - 1972

Nancy Holt - Sun Tunnels / Remembering Stonehenge, Great Basin Desert - 1973

Walter De Maria - Lightning Field, New Mexico - 1974

James Turrell - Roden Crater Project - Begun 1974-?

James Turrell - Roden Crater Project (Satellite View) - Begun 1974-?

Christo Javacheff - The Running Fence, California - 1976

Christo Javacheff - Flamingo Pink Islands, Florida - 1983

Robert Smithson - Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake (Image 1)- 1970

Robert Smithson - Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake (Image 2) - 1970

List of Earth & Land Artists:

  • Christopher Alexander
  • Lara Almarcegui
  • Alice Aycock
  • Julie Bargmann
  • Lothar Baumgarten
  • Herbert Bayer
  • Betty Beaumont
  • Marinus Boezem
  • Maria Buchner
  • Sjoerd Buisman
  • Mel Chin
  • Christo
  • Nathan Coley
  • Karin Daan
  • Herman de Vries
  • Ad Dekkers
  • Luc Deleu
  • Agnes Denes
  • Mark Dion
  • Abigail Doan
  • Mary Beth Edelson
  • Olafur Eliasson
  • Toshikatsu Endo
  • ANT FARM
  • Harriet Feigenbaum
  • Peter Fend
  • Richard Fleischner
  • Andreas Fogarasi
  • Hamish Fulton
  • William Furlong
  • Ludger Gerdes
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Maria Elena González
  • Cai Guo-Qiang
  • Kathryn Gustafson
  • Hans Haacke
  • Peter David Hamilton
  • Newton & Helen Mayer Harrison
  • Michael Heizer
  • Nancy Holt
  • Valerie Jaudon
  • Patricia Johanson
  • Junichi Kakizaki
  • William Kentridge
  • Karl-Heinz Klopf
  • Carlo Kroon
  • Richard Long
  • Walter-de Maria
  • Gordon Matta-Clark
  • David Medalla
  • Ana Mendieta
  • Mary Miss
  • Robert Morris
  • David Nash
  • Pekka Nevalainen
  • Isamu Noguchi
  • Dennis Oppenheim
  • Toby Paterson
  • Beverly Pepper
  • Vong Phaophanit
  • Laurent Gutierrez & Valerie Portevaix
  • Tal R
  • Witold Rybczynski
  • Tilo Schulz
  • Richard Serra
  • Kazuo Shiraga
  • Charles Simonds
  • Buster Simpson
  • Robert Smithson
  • Alan Sonfist
  • Olafur Thordarson
  • Narcisse Tordoir
  • Armando Andrade Tudela
  • James Turrell
  • Nari Ward
  • Meg Webster


    Suggested Readings:

  • John Beardsley: Earthworks and Beyond. Contemporary Art in the Landscape. New York 1998 ISBN 0-7892-0296-4
  • Suzaan Boettger, Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties. University of California Press 2002. ISBN 0-520-24116-9
  • Gilles A. Tiberghien: Land Art. Ed. Carré 1995
  • Jeffrey Kastner, Brian Wallis: Land and Environmental Art. Boston 1998 ISBN 0-7148-4519-1
  • Udo Weilacher: Between Landscape Architecture and Land Art. Basel Berlin Boston 1999 ISBN 3-7643-6119-0
  • Max Andrews (Ed.): Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook. London 2006 ISBN 978-0-901469-57-1
  • Amy Dempsey: Destination Art. Berkeley CA 2006 ISBN 13-978-0-520-25025-3
  • Sonfist, Alan (2004). Nature: The End of Art. Florance, Italy: Gli Ori,Dist. Thames & Hudson, 280p. ISBN 0615125336.
  • John K. Grande: New York, London. Balance: Art and Nature, Black Rose Books, 1994, 2003 ISBN 1-55164-234-4
  • Edward Lucie-Smith (Intro) and John K. Grande: Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists, New York 2004 ISBN 0-7914-6914-7

    Rock Balancing

    Rock Balancing is a particular branch of Earth Art which is very temporary. The artist balances rocks on top of one of another to create an unique structure which will later be knocked by wind or vandals. The purpose of rock balancing however isn't to sell sculptures however, its more like a Buddhist meditation which requires practice and patience.

    Usually done in public places such as beaches, the artist doesn't use any kind of glue, cement, magnets, etc. There is no trick to rock balancing. It just takes lots of practice and a good sense of balance.

    Some artists however, like Aimee Rimes in Toronto, Canada, have been hired to balance rocks in people's gardens to add an extra bit of sculptural interest to their landscape designs. The example shown here is by Canadian artist Charles Moffat.

    See also: Canadian Rock Balancing Art and The Sculptures of Charles Moffat.

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