Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Earth Art

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Earth Art, a.k.a. Land Art or Earthworks, emerged in the late 1960s, expanding artistic boundaries in terms of materials and sites. Unlike Pop Art’s urban associations, Earth Art moved away from the city and took the environment as its material. Earth Art may be a later manifestation of the landscape tradition in British art and the romance of the West in American. It arose concurrently with the growing awareness of ecology and consumerist pollution, and appreciation for Stonehenge, Native American burial grounds, crop circles, etc.

Sol LeWitt (1928- )

Robert Morris (1931- )

Walter de Maria (1935- )

The Lightning Field (1977)
In a remote area of the high desert of southwestern New Mexico, 400 polished stainless steel poles have been installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer. The poles are two inches in diameter and average 20 feet by 7 1/2 inches in height. Spaced 220 feet apart, they shimmer in early morning and disappear in the bright light of day; but the drama is intense during lightning storms. Accommodations for up to six people for overnight visits during the months of May through October are available at $110 per person most of those months.

Michael Heizer (1944- )

Double Negative (1969-1970)
A three-mile long trench in the Virginia River mesa in Nevada.

Complex One (1972-74), Two (1980-1988), Three (1980-1999)
In Garden City, Nevada: part of a City. The next phase began in 2000.

Carl Andre (1935- ) and others associated with Minimalism also gravitated towards Earth Art (since they had confronted issues of gallery space and like the geometrics).

Alice Aycock (1946- ) is known for her maze-like constructions.

Nancy Holt (1938- ) and husband Robert Smithson (1938-1973)

Spiral Jetty(1970)
A twenty-year lease ensured the creation of a spiral road of black basalt stone projecting into the Great Salt Lake, reddened by algae and chemical waste. This was an abandoned industrial site. Eventual erosion has meant that the art has been reclaimed by nature, so the “work” is usually now submerged.

Smithson organized an Earth Works exhibit in NY in 1968: photographic documentation of projects such as LeWitt’s Box in a Hole (1968) and de Maria’s Mile Long Drawing (1968) — two perpendicular chalk lines drawn in the Mojave Desert in California.

The sites are often remote: in Lapland and the Himalayas are mounds made out of available materials by Richard Long (1945- ). American deserts are also favored.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1935- )

Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado (1970-1972)

Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin (1971-1995)

Wrapped Walk Ways, in Jacob Loose Memorial Park, Kansas City, Missouri (1978)
This work consisted of the installation of 12,150 square meters (135,000 square feet ) of saffron-colored nylon fabric covering 4.5 kilometers ( 2.7 miles) of formal garden walkways and jogging paths. Christo and Jeanne-Claude pay all the expenses for their projects through the sale of drawings, models, collages, and lithographs. The work remained in the park for a couple weeks in October, after which the material was removed and given to the Kansas City Parks Department for recycling.

Wrapped Coast, Little Bay, Australia (1968-1969)
One million square feet (93,000 square meters) of Erosion Control fabric; 36 miles of polypropylene rope. Little Bay, a cliff-lined shore, is 9 miles southeast of Sydney. The “work” lasted 10 weeks.

Harvey Fite

Opus 40 (1939- )
About 100 miles from New York City, in Saugerties, NY, is this sculptured environment at an abandoned bluestone quarry — ramps and terraces built around pools and trees — worked on for more than 37 years by one man with traditional quarryman’s tools. (The title, Opus 40, refers to the 40 years Fite anticipated working on this.) The technique is “dry keying” — fitting stones strategically and relying on the pressure of the mass for stability rather than any mortar or cement. Fite found what is now the central 9-ton monolith in 1952 in a nearby creek.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.