Land Art, or Earth Art, is justifiably known as one of the thorniest bodies of contemporary art. The massive pieces, among them the iconic “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson (who also coined the movement's moniker), Michael Heizer’s mysterious “City,” and James Turrell’s “Roden Crater,” defy representation and can only truly be experienced in person, in some of the more remote places on the planet. A new project from the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, however, gives at least a small inkling of the movement’s history to armchair Land Art explorers.
To launch their new exhibition at Geffen Contemporary, “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974,” the first historical, thematic exhibition to take on Land Art, the L.A. MoCA has created an online directory for the movement. With the help of Google Maps and designers Ways & Means and OKFocus, visitors can easily surf to a selection of Land Art’s greatest hits both executed and conceptual. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Wrapped Coast” (1969), the largest single artwork ever made according to the site, is among the former. The Google map displays the Australian coastline where the piece was installed while a pop-up provides an in situ photograph. Italian avant-garde architecture collective Superstudio’s “Cube of Forest on the Golden Gate” (1970-71), on the other hand, is an unexecuted proposition: the view of the real bridge reveals nothing, but a rendering outfits the structure with a dense building formed of plants.
L.A. MoCA’s exhibition shows Land Art “as a media practice as much as a sculptural one,” as the curatorial text describes it, giving equal weight to the language, photography, and video that publicized the projects and proposals as it does to the physical works — just as well, given that it would be difficult to shoehorn actual earthworks into a museum gallery. The online component makes it possible for viewers to get a sense of just where these works exist or existed, and what impact they had on the landscape that gave them their context and power.