A Conversation on Nature and Art (Maslow Gallery)

Currently, in the Maslow Gallery is a collection that sparks a conversation about where land and art intersect. The collection entitled “Land Use[d]” features several famous artists including Andy Warhol, Gianfranco Gorgoni, Robert Barry, and more. The piece that caught my eye the most was the photograph by Gorgoni. The subject matter was of Spiral Jetty, which I had seen before in my History of Modern Art class when we talked about the idea of land art. Land art also called Earthworks is the idea of making art from the earth in one specific location. Even the material would be from the earth such as dirt, stone, or water. The actual installation of Spiral Jetty was made by Robert Smithson. While the work of Smithson has had a long legacy, other artists who made land art made it with the intention of it being temporary. The commonality with these artists was to leave a mark on the earth’s landscape. 

Gianfranco Gorgoni, Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ side view, 1970, gelatin silver print
Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson

This way of making art was highly influenced by the rise of the environmental movement and environment-driven advocacy in the 1960s into the 70s and beyond. Not only was land art controversial due to it being exclusive to one site, but it also rejected the common way of displaying art within a gallery setting.  An additional approach to displaying land art in a more contained way was if an artist brought back some of the earthly material used in the piece to have it available at their exhibition. The true impact of a piece could never be entirely replicated in a gallery but the works still were recognized. The example of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty was then photographed by Gorgoni and shown in gallery spaces. Spiral Jetty is located in Utah and stretches from the shore of a lake into it. Despite being made in 1970, it is still able to be seen today and is considered a tourist attraction.

Another piece of land art I was taught about was Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt. Once again the site was specific but the materials were not taken from the site. Instead, there are multiple concrete tubes with holes drilled in them, placed in the Utah desert that capture different intensities of light through the day. I think both works have the element of interaction. Spiral Jetty is more an interaction with the rise and fall of the lake’s water while Sun Tunnels is more interactive with the viewer as they step through, or stand in the tunnels.

Sun Tunnels, Nancy Holt

For more art inspiration that makes you think about the intersection of environment and art, stop by the Maslaw Gallery from now to December 15th!

More on Land Art:

Earth Art Movement

Sun Tunnels

Spiral Jetty

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