Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974

Article excerpt

Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Prestel, Munich, 2012. Publication to accompany the exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 27 May-20 August 2012, and the Haus der Kunst, Munich, 12 October 2012-20 January 2013. £40. ISBN 978-3-7913-5194-0.

The illustrations for the cover and frontispiece of the catalogue Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 include an image transmitted from space, a still from a television broadcast and a page from an artist's book (fig. 1), all in black and white. If these do not seem like the usual images that adorn the covers and frontispieces of publications surveying Land Art, neither are they by artists immediately familiar from such accounts. NASA, the Swiss kinetic artist Jean Tinguely and the Los Angeles-based artist Ed Ruscha are hardly the mainstays of most Land Art narratives, and should probably alert the reader to the fact that this is a self-consciously revisionist account. It sets out to explode familiar assumptions as well as present the first large-scale and in-depth exhibition on the topic, as the curators make clear in their introduction to the catalogue.

True to the expansive and international early history of Earth and Land Art before it hardened into definitive art-historical categories, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue are impressive in their scope and research. There are surprises here for even the most ardent Land Art aficionados. Mary Kelly's An Earthwork Performed (with Steven Rothenberg, 1970/2012), first shown at London New Arts Lab, was a revelation for this viewer, and Kelly is not an artist I had ever thought of in this context. Works by Icelandic artists included Sigurdur Gudmundsson's A Project for the Wind (1971), made in Cornwall, had me wanting to know more about this particular episode of international exchange. The period from the late 1960s until the oil crisis of 1973 was an era of great mobility and artistic exchange, facilitated, at least for artists in the US and western Europe, by relatively inexpensive international air travel.

If the range of works in the exhibition was geographically diverse, the interpretative frameworks explored in the catalogue are considerably narrower and tend to coalesce - perhaps not surprisingly given the exhibition's two venues - around established US and (West) German perspectives. Some histories - of parallel developments in Italy by Germano Celant, or exhibitions in Israel by Yona Fischer - are told separately in the catalogue, largely through interviews or first-person accounts. This heterogeneous approach was reinforced in the exhibition display at MOCA by showing works by artists other than the historic pioneers or main protagonists (those included in the inaugural exhibitions of Earth, Earthworks and Land Art) either on an upper mezzanine or, in the case of the majority of the women artists, in a separate room. On the one hand this tended to reinforce their difference, if not their marginality, in spite of the catalogue's bold claims to internationality. On the other hand, presenting these diverse stories as simultaneous independent narratives demonstrated the fact that Land Art practices could emerge anywhere where engagement with the land had any kind of visual tradition, or where borders and territory were disputed (which leaves plenty of scope from the second half of the twentieth century) in an era of growing ecological awareness and space exploration.

During the exhibition's run in Los Angeles I went to a presentation by Joshua Neustein, an artist based in New York and Tel Aviv whose work, Road Piece, was remade for Ends of the Earth for the first time since its inaugural showing in Tel Aviv in 1970. His talk was highly entertaining, with one of his main contentions being that Land Art was all about money. This is why the biggest works are in America, he suggested. …

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