Robert Smithson was one of the founders of the art form known as earthworks or land art, and is most well known for the Spiral Jetty, 1970, located in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. This monumental earthwork was inspired in part when Smithson saw the Great Serpent Mound, a Pre-Columbian Indian monument in southwestern Ohio. The earthworks were a radical departure from making formal objects situated in a gallery setting.
Also referred to as Earthworks Art or simply Earth Art, this movement involves the use of nature and all natural materials like soil, rock, organic media, and water to produce an artwork.1 The natural elements may also be combined with concrete, asphalt, metal, and mineral pigments. This art movement is closely related to Site-Specific Installations and sculptures.
Land and Environmental Art started as an artistic protest against the artificiality, plastic aesthetics, and commercialization of art during the latter part of 1960s. It originated in the United States where many artists began creating artworks that are not intended for exhibit at any museum or gallery. They wanted to create something that cannot be transported or sold in the commercial market.
The artists used earth-moving equipment to create their artworks. They oftentimes choose a remote location for their masterpieces, ideally a place that is very far away from civilization, where their works can be left to change or erode under natural conditions. Several of the Land and Environmental artworks in the United States were created in the deserts of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.2 Many of them were also ephemeral in nature, which means they now only exist in photographic documents or video recordings.
This movement officially began in October 1968 after the Earth Works group exhibition held at the Dwan Gallery in New York. Many other works under the movement came out after the exhibit. But because this type of art is rather expensive to execute, it faded out after the economic downturn around mid-1970.
There are many famous artists which works can be classified under the Land and Environmental Art movement. However, it was American artist Robert Smithson who figured most prominently. The other popular names of this movement include Jacek Tylicki, Andrew Rogers, James Turrell, Milton Becerra, Michael Heizer, Eberhard Bosslet, and Manfred Kielnhofer, among others.
The most famous and highly admired Land and Environmental Art masterpiece could be Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’. It was built in 1970 on the shores of the Great Salt Lake near the Rozel Point in Utah. This earthwork sculpture is made out of mud, basalt rock, salt crystals, and water. It is a 1,500-foot long and 15-foot wide counterclockwise coil that juts from the shore of the lake. Its last photograph was shot in April of 2005.
The other examples of Land and Environmental art are ‘Bunjil Geoglyph’ found at the You Yangs in Lara, Australia created by Andrew Rogers; the ‘Roden Crater Satellite View’ by James Turrell located just outside Flagstaff, Arizona; ‘Meteriorite’ (1985) by Milton Becessar, which was created at the Ibirapuera Park for the XVIII Biennial of Sao Paulo; ‘Side Effect X’ (2008) which can be found in Tias, Lanzarote created by Eberhard Bosslet; and ‘The Kiss, Feld’ (2005) by Manfred Kielnhofer created in Enns, Austria.