Land Art at Risk

spiral jetty land art photo

Land art is the name given to monumental pieces of art that are created in and part of nature. Usually they are so huge that they could not be placed in a museum or private house. The most famous is the Spiral Jetty, 1970, by Robert Smithson, which is a spiral made out of basalt rock and earth and juts into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It is visible from above or by making the great trek there to see it (pictured).

Now it, and other such natural pieces are under threat because of real estate development and oil drilling pressures.

In this case, an oil company wanted to conduct exploratory drilling into the lake bed. In response a protest was mounted by the Dia Art Foundation and the state of Utah received thousands of complaints. "What we particularly object to is the potential visual impact that drilling might have on the work, as well as the equally important environmental impact it could have on the lake itself and its delicate ecosystem," says a director of Dia. "An oil spill could be disastrous for the lake, and therefore, the jetty." The state of Utah has ruled that the company must "make the necessary investment and professional effort necessary to match the challenges presented ahead by this project".

city michael heizer photo

In Nevada, Michael Heizer has created "City" over the past 30 years. It is a huge complex of sculptures and earthen forms built by the artist next to his ranch. The three complexes stretch one and a quarter miles across the desert. They are made mostly of earth, and were inspired in part by Native American traditions of mound-building and the ancient cities of Central and South America. One of the complexes is 70 feet in height and a quarter of a mile in length. The total cost of it may be $25 million by the time it is finished in 2010. Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has revealed plans to build a railway running across the valley, next to the work and the artist's home. The train would be transporting nuclear waste. It has been repeatedly stalled by legal challenges but has now been given four years to complete safety studies and hold public hearings.

double-negative heizer photo

Then there is nature itself which is threatening the art pieces. Michael Heizer's "Double Negative", 1969, consists of two trenches cut into the the Mormon Mesa in Nevada. Around 240,000 tons of sandstone was displaced to create the ravines which span 1,500 feet and are each 50 feet deep.

The artist asked that no conservation be undertaken on the piece so the walls of the man-made canyon are slowly crumbling and it is disappearing. Art Newspaper

More on Environmental Art
Art or Oil: Drilling Near Spiral Jetty
The Environmental Impact of Art

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