Open Spaces #1
This Close-up excerpt is our first from a brand new magazine. Open Spaces launched recently from New York, and covers land art and the connections between people, art and the natural world the form evokes.
It’s an area of art that often features in other magazines, but as founder Yara Akkari points out in her editor’s note, there’s not another magazine devoted to the subject.
Our excerpt is the opening of a piece describing a trip to one of the seminal examples of land art, Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ in deepest Utah, but the issue also looks away from the ground to find out how artists are inspired by clouds, as well as closer to home at projects supporting access to green spaces for minority groups.
Yara described for us her thoughts about the piece and its importance to the magazine; ‘When our creative director Eri Miyagi and I imagined the first issue, we imagined just this: an open landscape, a work of art and a personal journey. A road trip that combines elements of art and travel, with nature and natural spaces as central. The road that takes you to some of these Land Art works can be dirty, bumpy and you can get easily lost—a nice metaphor of life in general. This integration of ideas and places is what drives the purpose of our magazine.’
Over to writer Diana Irvine, and her trip to ‘The great artdoors’…
THWAK! Clank! Tiiing
Desert rocks pelt the undercarriage of the car as I slow to a stop. A fork in the road. I’m 9 miles from Rozel Point on Utah’s Great Salt Lake. My last chance for cell reception faded 7 miles ago and a tank of gas 26 miles before that. The cashier at the Golden Spike Visitor Center said they saw a car drive out ahead of me this morning, but they haven’t returned. The sun is high and it’s hard to tell where the horizon ends and the sky begins, shimmering into twisted ripples in the distance.
Many visitors have wondered if the drama of getting to Robert Smithson’s seminal art piece, Spiral Jetty, eclipses the drama of the work itself. That is, until they drive the last 9 miles, park their car and stand at the shoreline.
Smithson hired a contractor to move 6,500 tons of basalt rock and dirt out onto the Great Salt Lake 50 years ago. What starts as a traditional, perpendicular walkway quickly veers left into a tight coil akin to a baby fern. It’s more than a fantastical footpath, though, so much more. It halts your feet and drops your jaw. Spiral Jetty was completed long ago, but is still touted as the most famous piece of Land Art to date.
Born the lovechild of Conceptual Art and the blossoming Environmental Movement, Land Art made a name for itself in the late 1960s. Land Art, or Earth Art, applies to site-specific pieces made in and of the landscape in which they reside, often using organic materials like rocks or plants.
Not all outdoor installations can be deemed ‘Land Art’, however. Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York has arguably the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in America. The impressive and often sublime display of installations includes works both simply placed outside and ones categorized as site-specific Land Art. Many sculptures could ostensibly be moved back indoors without losing their effect. But, an installation like Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall couldn’t exist anywhere else. The stone wall snakes intentionally around preexisting trees, boulders and shoreline: change the natural elements and you change the artwork. If the landscape is detachable, it’s not Land Art. Organic or not, the materials employed should dialogue directly with the earth in which they reside. Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field utilizes 400 steel poles to attract the natural, earth element of lightning. In this case the steel medium sings backup to nature’s lead lightning vocals. The two are inseparable.
Taking art outside may seem mundane by today’s standards, but it was radical in 1970. Land Artists pioneered an exciting shift in the perception of art in a capitalist system, bursting through gallery walls with a newfound energy. Artists like Smithson, De Maria, Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim questioned art as commodity. They often chose locations in the Western United States for their virginity and scale: in the heart of the homeland but removed from large populations. Made in the ‘middle of nowhere’, their works couldn’t be sold in the same way (if at all). In the multi-layered words of Michael Kimmerman, Land Artists “push sculpture off its pedestal”…
…and into the hardy, soiled hands of Mother Earth herself. They seek to bring us out into the natural world and vitalize our relationship to it.
Which brings me back to the fork in the road. And, after 9 more rocky miles, facing a spiral in the sand.