While in Quemado, New Mexico earlier this month, I felt like I was stepping back in time. Earthworks suddenly seem so 1970s, the result of the artistic ambition and (narrowly available) patronage of another era. Back then (at least a few) patrons had interest in enabling the biggest ideas of preferred artists. That belief and support resulted in some of the greatest American art of its era, works such as Spiral Jetty and The Lightning Field. Today many contemporary art collectors prefer to glorify themselves by building suburban monuments to their own check-writing ability collecting visions.
So scale-enabled land art is dead or near-dead… but over the last few months I’ve noticed that a couple artists have taken bits and pieces from the earthworks period and have adapted it to our time. Back when earthworks were hot, environmentalism was new. Earthworks was an early art-world engagement with the new green movement. Today environmentalism is old news, but concern about how humans have radically changed the planet’s climate is front-and-center.
Result: Look at two recent projects of artists using trees — those naturally selected mechanisms for capturing CO2 and releasing O2 — in their work. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Robert Irwin is using palm trees as a medium. (Several readers have pointed out to me that parts of Irwin’s palm garden is in direct dialogue with Chris Burden’s Urban Light.) Also, Eyeteeth recently posted about Agnes Denes’ Tree Mountain: A Living Capsule project in Finland. It uses 11,000 trees and, well, you’ve got to see it.
Related: Given that the National Mall is a perpetual mess, why don’t we just give Denes the National Mall and see what she comes up with?