PRINT May 1985


Earthworks and Beyond

Very few of us have been able to walk the land of Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, 1977, in New Mexico, or to consider Michael Heizer’s monumental Double Negative, 1969–70, incised into the Nevada desert. John Beardsley’s book now presents a critical evaluation of the evolution of works that incorporate and/or alter the landscape itself. This thoughtful volume is very well illustrated and provides a context for understanding the achievements of a highly diverse range of artistic endeavor. Beardsley’s discussion ranges from the land interventions and reclamation projects of Robert Smithson and the participatory observatories of Robert Morris to the romantic formalism of Heizer and Ant Farm’s elegy to the automotive age, Cadillac Ranch, executed in Amarillo in 1974. His appreciation of poetic pieces by Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, and Nancy Holt adds to the understanding of their work. Christo’s achievements and his masterful manipulation of media and bureaucratic systems to bring a wider audience to his projects receive relatively short shrift.

What takes this book beyond its solid state, however, is the author’s inclusion of some unusual projects: one of the best is the extraordinary garden created in Scotland by the concrete poet and artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay, who has declared that “Modern Sculpture is willfully ignorant.” Finlay, collaborating with his wife and assistants, has created a contemporary picturesque work which pays homage to literature, philosophy, botany, and art and argues against modern nuclear madness. Relevant to Beardsley’s discussion as well are works by Alice Aycock, Charles Simonds, James Pierce, and the eccentric stone terraces of Harvey Fite in upstate New York. Isamu Noguchi, a pioneering master in the artistic alteration of landscape, is the earliest among the new corporately commissioned monument builders who are included. The book ends with a discussion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, 1982, and its only omission of substance seems to be that of the various garden sculptures executed recently by Morris, Aycock, Anne and Patrick Poirier, and others at the Villa Celle in Italy. Highly recommended.

Alexandra Anderson


John Beardsley, Earthworks and Beyond (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), 144 pages, 82 black and white illustrations, 48 color plates.