The Troublemakers who created the Land Art movement
by Larry Murray
The documentary film Troublemakers from James Crump unearths the history of land art in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s when a cadre of renegade New York artists sought to transcend the limitations of painting and sculpture by producing earthworks on a monumental scale in the desolate desert spaces of the American southwest.
The wild imagination and sheer bravado that enabled these massive constructions become reality are the focus of this documentary which revisits an often forgotten movement of the 1960’s that changed the art world forever. Among the artists the film highlights are (in alphabetical order) Carl Andre, Vito Acconci, Germano Celant, Paula Cooper, Walter De Maria, Virginia Dwan, Charles Ross, Willoughby Sharp, Robert Smithson and Lawrence Weiner.
What is striking is that all of these artists are my peers, born in the same time frame as I was, and as other writers and artists in the Berkshires,most notably Charles Giuliano who writes, edits and publishes Berkshire Fine Arts. We are all at the age where we are thinking about our legacies, and the artists who are the focal point of this film deserve to be remembered. Their works – or what remains of them – could well become the great Cathedrals of this millennium and draw millions to visit their work in some future generation.
Today these works remain impressive not only for the sheer audacity of their makers but also for their out-sized ambitions to break free from traditional norms. The film casts these artists in a heroic light, which is exactly how they saw themselves. Iconoclasts who changed the landscape of art forever, these revolutionary, antagonistic creatives risked their careers on radical artistic change and experimentation, and took on the establishment to produce art on their own terms. The film includes rare footage and interviews which unveil the enigmatic lives and careers of storied artists Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), Walter De Maria (The Lightning Field) and Michael Heizer (Double Negative); a headstrong troika that established the genre and who stand in marked contrast to the hyper-speculative contemporary art world of today.
Being released on DVD, it includes an Extra: Troublemakers Director James Crump and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Director Philippe Vergne engage in a lively discussion at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A.
TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART A film by James Crump. 72 minutes, documentary, color, English, 2015. The DVD will be released on May 17, 2016.
These are works that are meant to be the next Stonehenge…one is quickly convinced that future generations will indeed head to the American desert like they do to the great churches of Europe.” – The Guardian
About the Artists
Carl Andre (born 1935) is an American minimalist artist recognized for his ordered linear format and grid format sculptures. His sculptures range from large public artworks to more intimate tile patterns arranged on the floor of an exhibition space. He is represented by Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, Konrad Fischer Galerie in Düsseldorf and Berlin, and Sadie Coles HQ in London.
Vito Acconci (born 1940) has been a vital presence in contemporary art since the late 1960s; his confrontational and ultimately political works have evolved from writing through conceptual art, bodyworks, performance, film, video, multimedia installation and architectural sculpture. Since the late 1980s he has focused on architecture and design projects.
Germano Celant (born 1940) is internationally acknowledged for his theories on arte povera. He is the author of more than one hundred publications, including both books and catalogues. He has curated hundreds of exhibitions in the most prominent international museums and institutions worldwide. Since 1977, he has been a contributing editor to Artforum and since 1991 he has been a contributing editor to Interview.
Paula Cooper (born 1938) was deemed “the idol of every young female dealer” by one observer. Cooper has lorded over the avant-garde art scene since the 1960s, when she ran a co-op gallery on West Broadway. Her eponymous New York gallery founded in 1968 is primarily known for the minimalist and conceptual artists it has represented and whose careers it helped launch. Such artists include Carl Andre, Jennifer Bartlett, Lynda Benglis, Jonathan Borofsky, Sophie Calle, Mark di Suvero, Walter De Maria and Sol LeWitt, among others.
Walter De Maria (1935 to 2013) was an American artist, sculptor, illustrator and composer. He lived and worked in New York City. De Maria’s artistic practice was connected with minimal art, conceptual art, and land art of the 1960s. He realized land art projects in the deserts of the American southwest, with the aim of creating situations where the landscape and nature, light and weather would become an intense, physical and psychic experience. In his work, De Maria stressed that the work of art is intended to make the viewer think about the earth and its rela-tionship to the universe. Lightning Field (1977) is De Maria’s best-known work. It consists of 400 stainless steel posts arranged in a calculated grid over an area of one mile by one kilometer.
Virginia Dwan (born October 18, 1931) is an American art collector, art patron, philanthropist and visionary founder of the Dwan Light Sanctuary in Montezuma, New Mexico. A former gallerist York and in the 1969 Earth Art exhibition curated by Willoughby Sharp at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Charles Ross (born in 1937) is an American sculptor and earthwork artist. In 1965, Ross began creating prism sculptures–minimal geometrical objects as perceptual vessels that alter the perception of the environments that surround them. These he first began exhibiting in one-person exhibitions at the Dwan Gallery in New York. In 1971, Ross began work on an earthwork known as Star Axis, which is a naked eye observatory and architectonic sculpture. Star Axis’s geometry is derived from the shifting relationship of earth to the sun and the north star.
Willoughby Sharp (1936 to 2008) was an internationally known artist, independent curator, independent publisher, gallerist, teacher, author, and telecom activist. Sharp curated the historically significant 1969 Earth Art exhibition at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York which was the first museum exhibition devoted to the genre. Earth Art included the work of Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, Dennis Oppenheim, and Jan Dibbets among other artists. Sharp also co-founded the progressive art journal Avelanche (in publication from 1970 to 1976).
Robert Smithson (1938 to 1973) was an American artist famous for his use of photography in relation to sculpture and land art, of which he was an important forerunner. His most famous work is Spiral Jetty (1970), a three-part work whose most important component is a 1,500-foot long spiral-shaped jetty extending into the Great Salt Lake in Utah constructed from rocks, earth, and salt. On July 20, 1973, Smithson died in a plane crash, while surveying sites for his work Amarillo Ramp in the vicinity of Amarillo, Texas. Despite his early death, and relatively few surviving major works, Smithson has a following amongst many contemporary artists. In recent years, Tacita Dean, Sam Durant, Renée Green, Lee Ranaldo, Vik Muniz, Mike Nelson, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation have all made homages to Smithson’s works.
Lawrence Weiner (born in 1942) is one of the central figures in the formation of conceptual art in the 1960s. His work often takes the form of typographic texts. Weiner created his first book Statements in 1968, a small 64-page paperback with texts describing projects. Statements is considered one of the seminal conceptual artist’s books of the era. He was a contributor to the famous Xeroxbook also published by Seth Siegelaub in 1968. Weiner’s composed texts describe process, structure, and material, and though Weiner ‘s work is almost exclusively language-based, he regards his practice as sculpture, citing the elements described in the texts as his materials. In 1969, he was among the American contingent of artists that participated in the legendary exhibition curated by Swiss curator, Harald Szeemann, entitled Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern.