09
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Exhibition dates: 11th November 2012 – 20th January 2013

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“Not taking Land art as a given the exhibition revisits various milieus and networks of heterogeneous practices around the world where the desire to engage the land or to work with the earth followed diverse artistic objectives and impulses. In researching this diversity, we found that the dominant art historical interpretation of Land art – as fundamentally an American sculptural phenomenon that developed out of Minimalism and Postminimalism, expanding into the “field” beyond art spaces to occupy or to become one with vast landscapes like the deserts of the Southwestern United States – accounts for only a limited number of artists’ works.”

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Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon. Ends of the Earth and Back catalogue essay, p.18

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This posting continues the theme of land/(e)scape, combining as it does performance, site, nonsite, language, film and earth. It is such a pity that the documentation of these early Land Art events in the form of photographs tends to be so poor. The paucity and quality of the visual evidence adds to the ephemeral, transient nature of the art while undermining the works cultural significance. As Robert Smithson notes in his commentary on the piece Spiral Jetty (1970), if the work occupies a “site” and the essay and the film are Nonsites where language (the essay), photographic images (the film), and earth (the jetty) are viewed as material equals – in other words, each is given equal weight within the project – then on the evidence of these images as a lasting artefacts of an action, the photographs seem to me to be just shorthand notes, cursory artefacts like a smudged fingerprint at a crime scene.

Is it necessary that they be great art? No, because the art was not about ego it was about being there at the actual event. But, other than an overt ability to show the outcomes of the performance, what is necessary from these documentary photographs is that they engage the viewer on a higher level than just ocular observation. While Land Art must be extremely difficult to photograph there is nothing memorable here that will stick in my consciousness, that will trigger a memory of the photograph as “vision” (hallucination, simulation, projection?) of these amazing events, which is a great shame. Rendering shapes of things does not make for memorable art, even as that very (Land) art aimed to investigate higher concepts relating to “this tortured earth.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Haus der Kunst, Munich for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Please also read the accompanying essay, Ends of the Earth and Back by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon (615kb pdf). See the excellent Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 MOCA website for more art work and photographs via Google Earth of the original locations of the Land Art.

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Alice Aycock. 'Clay #2' 1971/2012

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Alice Aycock
Clay #2
1971/2012
1,500 pounds of clay mixed with water in wood frame
Size: each 121.9 x 121.9 x 15.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist

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Zorka Saglova. 'Laying Napkins Near Sudomer' 1970

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Zorka Saglova
Laying Napkins Near Sudomer
1970
Six gelatin-silver prints
15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in. (40 × 60 cm) each
collection of Jan Sagl

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For Laying Napkins near Sudomer, the artist laid out approximately 700 napkins to form a triangle in a grass field near Sudomer, the site of a famous Hussite battle in 1420. The action referred to local folklore relating how Hussite women would spread pieces of cloth on a marshy field to snag the spurs of the Roman Catholic cavalrymen as they dismounted, making them easy targets for the Hussite warriors.

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Michael Snow. 'La Région Centrale' 1971

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Michael Snow
La Région Centrale
1971
16mm film transferred to DVD (blackbox projection), black-andwhite, sound
191 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Robert Kinmont. '8 Natural Handstands' 1969/2009

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Robert Kinmont
8 Natural Handstands
1969/2009
Nine gelatine silver prints
Size: each 21.5 x 21.5 cm
Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

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Robert Kinmont 8. 'Natural Handstands' 1969/2009 (detail)

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Robert Kinmont
8 Natural Handstands (detail)
1969/2009
Nine gelatine silver prints
Size: each 21.5 x 21.5 cm
Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

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Keith Arnatt. 'Liverpool Beach Burial' 1968

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Keith Arnatt
Liverpool Beach Burial
1968 Gelatine silver print
Size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Keith Arnatt Estate and Maureen Paley, London

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Liverpool Beach Burial, which the artist described as a “situational sculpture,” was realized by Arnatt with his students at the Manchester College of Art. It was first exhibited in “Konzeption – Conception: Dokumentation einer heutigen Kunstrichtung/Documentation of Today’s Art Tendency” at the Städtisches Museum, Leverkusen, Germany, in 1969. The artist recorded instructions for its making: “(1) Choosing a site and marking out a straight line. (2) Marking off 4-foot intervals. Each mark representing a digging position for each of the hundred-plus participants. (3) Each participant chose a site on the line and dug his/her own hole. (4) When the holes were deep enough the participants were ‘buried’ by nonparticipants.” (Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997], 50.)

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“As the first major museum exhibition on Land Art, Ends of the Earth provides the most comprehensive historical overview of this art movement to date. Land Art used the earth as its material and the land as its medium, thereby creating works beyond the familiar spatial framework of the art system. The time period covered in Ends of the Earth spans the 1960s to 1974, when, in the context of Land Art, movements such as Conceptual Art, Minimal Art, Happenings, Performance Art, and Arte povera, became more distinct and began to diverge.

The nearly 200 works by more than 100 artists from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Switzerland demonstrate that Land Art was not a predominantly North American phenomenon. The exhibition presents works that are less well known than the canonical works Spiral Jetty, Lightning Field and Double Negative, thereby creating a shift in perspective. By including works of the then participating artists, the show refers to the earlier and pioneering exhibitions Earthworks and Earth Art (New York, 1968 and 1969). Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria are interested in realizations in outside and lend the mediated part within an exhibition only secondary importance. They are, therefore, not included in this presentation.

Even before the emergence of the movement in the 1960s, artists from the most varied locations around the globe were increasingly moved to claim the earth and use land as an artistic medium. In a basic sense, this also included the examination of the nature of the earth as a planet. Yves Klein, for instance, wondered what the earth looked like from space. In 1961, he transformed his vision that the dominant color from this perspective would be blue, and that all man-made boundaries could be overcome with this color, into his series Planetary Reliefs.

Land Art artists often worked under the open sky, making productive use of the fact that the great outdoors posed other conditions for a work’s lifespan than enclosed spaces did. Some works only existed for the short time of their creation, like Judy Chicago’s ephemeral works consisting of colored flames and smoke, which served as references to religious ceremonies and the landscape as a deity. For ten weeks, the cliffs along Little Bay, Sydney, were packed in synthetic fabric and rope for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, which, like many other works of Land Art, was enormous in scale. Another famous work of similar proportions was Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson; on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, the artist built a 1,500-foot long spiral-shaped jetty made of material found on site.

Land Art artists were fascinated by remote locations like deserts. Hreinn Fridfinnsson constructed a house on an uninhabited lava field near Reykjavik. The inside was made of corrugated sheet metal and the outside was covered in wall paper, because, as wall paper is intended to please the eye, “it is reasonable to have it on the outside, where more people can enjoy it.” Some artists transported the conditions of specific places into exhibition spaces: The Japanese artist group “i” moved four truckloads of gravel on a conveyor belt into an exhibition space and arranged it into a pile there. Alice Aycock fills a minimalistic grid with wet clay. This work will be recreated for the exhibition in Haus der Kunst; the clay will dry out during the run of the exhibition, will crack and gradually come to resemble the land in California’s Death Valley (Clay #2, 1971/2012). With Hog Pasture: Survival Piece #1 (1970-71/2012), not only will new material – in this case a green pasture – make on selected occasions its way into the museum but a live domestic pig as well, which will pasture on the meadow from time to time.

From the earliest days of the movement, collectors, patrons, art dealers, and curators also explored sensitively which works of Land Art could be exhibited in museums and galleries, and how this should be done. In their own way, they helped establish Land Art as a legitimate artistic genre. In the case of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty an art dealer helped funding the production of an accompanying film, and the work was executed in three equally valid versions: as the site-specific headland, as an eponymous essay and as a film.

In general, language, film, and photography played a central role in Land Art’s creation and development. Land Art artists and members of the media established close connections to one another. Magazines and television stations commissioned art works and were the first to publish these. Now legendary is Gerry Schum’s Fernsehgalerie, which was the first exhibition created for television and was broadcast by Sender Freies Berlin on 15 April 1969. For eight consecutive days in October of that same year, the WDR television network interrupted its regularly scheduled programs, at 8:15 pm and 9:15 pm, for a few seconds and presented the eight photographs of Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial, which depicted the artist gradually sinking into the ground. The television station refrained from accompanying this with an introduction or commentary.

Following the presentation of Tinguely’s self-destructing sculpture Hommage à New York, the NBC television network commissioned the artist to create a work. In collaboration with Niki de Saint-Phalle, Tinguely made a large-scale kinetic sculpture out of waste material he had found in and around Las Vegas. The work was used in choreographed explosions that took place south-west of Las Vegas near a nuclear test site. Tinguely’s spectacle was presented in the same newscast as was a major report about the international nuclear talks, which took place that same week.

Many other works touched on the subject of “this tortured earth”, as Isamu Noguchi described it. Land Art artists examined the wounds and scars that humans inflict on the planet earth, whether by the war machinery (Robert Barry, Isamu Noguchi), dictatorships (Artur Barrio), nuclear testing (Heinz Mack, Jean Tinguely, Adrian Piper) or colonization (Yitzhak Danziger). The media’s intensive coverage of Land Art activities led to unusual and complex contributions. Receptive to Land Art’s demand for a sensitive consciousness regarding the conditions of production, presentation and dissemination of art, they also gave expression to the technological, social and political conditions of the time.

Organized in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Haus der Kunst website

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Charles Eames
Ray Eames

Powers of Ten
1977
© 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC

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Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

This film was inspired by the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke as well as by architect Eliel Saarinen’s statements about scale. It opens with an overhead shot of a man and a woman lyingon a picnic blanket in a park in Chicago. In an effort to depict the scale of the couple, the planet Earth, and the galaxy relative to one another and to that of the universe, the camera zooms out at a distance of a factor of ten every two seconds, until the galaxy is seen as merely a speckof light among many others. The camera then zooms back in, with ten times the magnification every ten seconds, focusing in the end on the proton of an atom.

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Charles Simonds. 'BodyEarth' 1974

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Charles Simonds
Body<—>Earth
1974
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour
3 min.
Collection of the artist

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Zorka Saglova. 'Homage to Gustav Obermann' March 1970

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Zorka Saglova
Homage to Gustav Obermann
March 1970
Six gelatin-silver prints
15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in. (40 × 60 cm) each
Collection of Jan Sagl; Courtesy Jan Sagl

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Beginning in the late 1960s, Saglova was one of the first artists to work in the landscape outside Prague, carrying out actions with her friends, many of whom were part of the artistic underground in then-Communist Czechoslovakia. For Homage to Gustav Obermann, Saglova arranged twenty-one plastic bags filled with jute and gasoline in Bransoudov (near Humpolec) in a circle during a snowstorm. The bags were set on fire at nightfall. This event was held in memory of a shoe-maker from the town who was said to have protested the German occupation during World War II by walking in the surrounding hills while spitting fire. Two months later, for Laying Napkins near Sudomer, the artist laid out approximately 700 napkins to form a triangle in a grass field near Sudomer, the site of a famous Hussite battle in 1420. The action referred to local folklore relating how Hussite women would spread pieces of cloth on a marshy field to snag the spurs of the Roman Catholic cavalrymen as they dismounted, making them easy targets for the Hussite warriors.

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Les Levine. 'Systems Burnoff X Residual Software' 1969/2012

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Les Levine
Systems Burnoff X Residual Software
1969/2012
Installation recreation 1,000 copies of 31 photographs (31,000 photographs total) taken by Levine at the March 1969 opening of EARTH ART exhibition in Ithaca, New York
Jello and chewing gum
Courtesy of the artist

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude. 'Wrapped Coast - One Million Square Feet' 1968-69

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet
1968-69
Collages, photographs, model, film
Collection of the artist

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The largest single artwork ever made, Wrapped Coast was mounted in Little Bay, Sydney, Australia, on October 28, 1969, and remained on view for ten weeks. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, with the assistance of 125 students, teachers, professional climbers, and workers and under the supervision of Major Ninian Melville, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, wrapped approximately one and a half miles of coast, including cliffs up to 85 feet high, using synthetic fabric and rope. This was the first work in the series of Kaldor Public Art Projects initiated by Australian collector John Kaldor. The project was financed by the sale of Christo’s preparatory drawings, collages, models, and lithographs. In the end, all materials used were removed from the bay and recycled. ABC Australia filmed a documentary of the project.

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Peter Hutchinson. 'Paricutin Project' 1971

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Peter Hutchinson
Paricutin Project
1971
Photo and ink on cardboard and molded bread in object-frame
Size: 40 x 55 cm
Courtesy Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer, Düsseldorf

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The Paricutin Project was first shown in 1969 at John Gibson Gallery in New York as a model illustrating Hutchinson’s conception of an action to take place on Mt. Paricutin, a volcanoin Michoacán, Mexico. A year later, Time magazine funded Hutchinson’s trip to the site to make the work in exchange for exclusive rights to publish the photographs. In an attempt to produce life in a place generally thought of as lifeless, the artist laid 450 pounds of bread crumbs in a line approximately 250 feet long around the rim of the volcano. Mold appeared after six days, in part because of the heat and steam rising from the earth. Two photographs of the project were published in the June 29, 1970, issue of Time. Later that same year, large-scale photographs of the work, along with text describing the trip, were shown at John Gibson Gallery.

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Patricia Johanson. 'Stephen Long' 1968

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Patricia Johanson
Stephen Long
1968
CBSTV 1968; edited by Joanna Alexander, WNET TV, New York, 1971
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour, sound
5 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Interested in the physical limitations of sight and in measuring how far the eye can see, Johanson created this 1,600-foot-long by 2-foot-wide sculpture made of plywood planks painted with yellow, red, and blue bands. Sited on a portion of the defunct Boston & Maine Railroad tracks from Buskirk, New York, to Bennington, Vermont, the work is named after Stephen Long, a military officer who became a railroad surveyor and engineer. Both the location of the work and its title emphasize the impact of rail transportation on modern perceptions and experience of the landscape. The work gained considerable local media attention, and John Lindsay, Mayor of New York, invited Johanson to permanently install the piece in the mall at Central Park. As the available space was only 1,300 feet long, the artist, unwilling to alter the work’s length, declined the invitation.

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Kristjan Gudmundsson. 'Painting of the specific gravity of the planet Earth' 1972-73

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Kristjan Gudmundsson
Painting of the specific gravity of the planet Earth
1972-73
Acrylic on metal
Size: 25.4 x 25.4 cm
Sólveig Magnúsdóttir, Reykjavik

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Judy Chicago. 'Atmospheres: Duration Performances' 1967-74

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Judy Chicago
Atmospheres: Duration Performances
1967-74
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour, sound
14:12 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Heinz Mack. 'Tele-Mack' 1968

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Heinz Mack
Tele-Mack
1968
16mm film transferred on DVD, colour, sound
24:35 min.
Production of Saarländischer Rundfunk, author Professor Heinz Mack
Courtesy of Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH

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A founding member of Group Zero – an artist collective established in Düsseldorf in 1958 – Mack drafted the final version of his manifesto for Sahara Project in 1959. It was first published in Zero magazine in 1961, and subsequently republished and translated from German into French, Dutch, and English in 1967 for Mackazin, the artist’s journal-catalogue. Sahara Project, made in homage to Yves Klein, proposes placing large-scale sculptural works in remote areas of the world’s deserts, like mirages to be encountered by anyone coming upon them. One such location was the Sahara Desert, which was the main testing site for French nuclear weaponry after 1958. In 1967 Mack went on an expedition to the Sahara with the German public television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), which led to two televised presentations of the project the following year – one for WDR and the other for Saarländischer Rundfunk. The popular weekly German magazine Stern presented the project in a feature spread in 1977.

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Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstraße 1
80538 Munich
Germany
T: +49 89 21127 113

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Thursday 10 am - 10 pm

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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