Earthworks and the Monumental

Earthworks and the Monumental
February 27th, 2012

Spiral Jetty

Well, we’re back to The Monk by the Sea, and you’re probably noticing how much I like to reference this piece by now. The distinction I’m making this time is between the classical notion of Man vs. The Wild, and our more contemporary notions of the fragility of the globe. We now live in an age where we think about preserving the wild as much as protecting ourselves from the elements. But first we have to back up a bit, to the beginnings of any environmental movements, to artists not making necessarily political statements, but just working in the landscape as movers of dirt.

If anything is this lecture can group all these artists together, it would be the notion of Scale. We start with artists still working within the gallery setting, but pushing the envelope of what can still fit within four walls. In some cases the expansion is illusionist in nature, by use of mirrors which reflect space, or lights which fill the room with their glow. Other times it is by perceived weight, or presence, as with Serra’s steel pieces threatening to crush the viewer, or De Maria’s Earth room, which crams enough of the outside indoors in order to remind us of the difference in magnitude.

Next, we follow these tendencies into the open air, and watch artists push the boundaries of what you can even call a sculpture. Jetty’s, buildings, cities, mountains, all of the earth’s natural and man-made surfaces become possible expressions of artistic ideas.

After this class you should be able to

Define the following:

  • scale
  • sublime
  • monumental
  • Plato’s Cave

Recognize artwork by the following artists:

  • Cristo and Jean-Claude
  • Michael Heizer
  • Nancy Holt
  • Gordon Matta-Clark
  • Richard Serra
  • Robert Smithson
  • James Turrell

Answer the following:

  • What relationship to Earthworks artists have to environmentalism?
  • What parallels can be drawn between Jackson Pollock and Richard Serra?

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