Looking at Earthworks Artists & Their Descendants

"You" by Urs Fischer
“You” by Urs Fischer

Today I look at how various artists over recent times have reacted against the idea that developed through the history of art of the gallery as a sacred place, and the art within as items to be worshipped.

A recent installation in New York by Urs Fisher takes place inside a gallery, while some of his antecedents had moved their work outside the gallery.

Urs Fischer has reduced Gavin Brown’s Enterprise to a hole in the ground, and it is one of the most splendid things to have happened in a New York gallery in a while…A 38-foot-by-30-foot crater, eight feet deep, extends almost to the walls of the gallery, surrounded by a fourteen-inch ledge of concrete floor. A sign at the door cautions…intrepid viewers can, all the same, inch their way around the hole.

It is the gallery deconstructed and “makes you look at galleries in a new way.” Read more about it in this New York magazine article.

Gordon Matta Clark - Conical Intersect
Conical Intersect (detail) by Gordon Matta-Clark 1975

Gordon Matta-Clark deconstructed whole buildings. “It’s all about evolution,” he said.

Disappearing Act, Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark’s Lost Public Art…

from Karen Rosenberg:

“…in the early seventies, Gordon Matta-Clark made transformative, transgressive art out of New York’s desolate corners. Without permits or any official support, the former Cornell architecture student hacked into the walls and floors of derelict buildings (of which there were many), turning shadowy wrecks into light-filled sculptures. “I don’t like the way most art needs to be looked at in galleries,” Matta-Clark once said, “any more than the way empty halls make people look.”

Read more of this review of Matta-Clark’s recent retrospective, or read this interesting personal story about Gordon Matta-Clark by Ned Smyth.

Robert Smithson - Spiral Jetty
Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah April 1970

History is representational, while time is abstract; both of these artifices may be found in museums, where they span everybody’s own vacancy. The museum undermines one’s confidence in sense data and erodes the impression of textures upon which our sensations exist…Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Hallways lead the viewer to things once called ‘pictures’ and ‘statues’.

Excerpt from “Some Void Thoughts On Museums” by Robert Smithson. See and read more about Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty at his website, which has fabulous photos of this and other earthworks, and links to his mirror works, drawings, other writings, and more.

Take a look at “The Broken Kilometer” by Walter De Maria, of Lightning Field fame. (all photos of this work are claimed by the Dia Art Foundation, so I cannot show it to you here).

Five hundred gleaming gold-coloured rods, receding into the distance, laid out majestically in a five-sectioned plane…And all De Maria had been wanting to do was create something enduring and especially beautiful to anchor in some small way the viewer’s perceptions, in an attempt to counter the trend of that time…

To this day this supremely gleaming work is still where it ever was in New York. The whole room seems to be filled with a simple splendour…Even Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings, Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tube installations or Henri Matisse’s captivating chapel in Vence are not likely to fill the viewer with such wonder…De Maria’s installation has caused the art world to divide just as the Red Sea once did, allowing those with eyes to see to make out a light at the end of the tunnel.

Michael Heizer- City
“City” and “Double Negative” by Michael Heizer – earthworks in the Nevada desert.

The sheer size of Double Negative also invites contemplation of the scale of art, and the relation of the viewer the earth and to art itself. How does art change when it can’t fit in a museum? How does one observe an artwork that’s a quarter-mile long?

See and read more about Michael Heizer’s earthworks at the website Double Negative.

Chris Burden - Samson
“Samson,” a gallery expanding installation, by Chris Burden

Chris Burden has been called ‘one of America’s few really scary artists.’ He is the artist whose early works involved placing himself in personal danger, such as when in 1971, he had himself shot in the arm by a friend. Another time, he himself shot at a 747: Chris Burden shooting at a 747, 1973. Read some recent information on him here.

Which brings me to “A Matter of Time” — an essay from the Tate, spring 2007:

The ability to play with time, stretching and quickening it, is a distinctively modern phenomenon, since the advent of photography in the twentieth century, and the idea of mathematical time introduced with the emergence of secular humanism after the Enlightenment.