New York

Richard Long

Sperone Westwater

What we see of Richard Long’s art—his construction of rings made from alpine granite, or lines constructed of burnt timber—rarely exists outside the conventional art-viewing context of galleries and museums. However, Long’s true medium is his walks. Spanish Stones, 1988, documents a walk through Spain for 410 miles in 14 days from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, and Mississippi Waterline Walking Line, 1988, documents a walk along the coast of the Mississippi River in Illinois. The works, whether photographic, textual, or sculptural, are not representations per se, but refer to the artist’s particular experiences of sense data from the conditions of the given terrain.

Long shows no inclination toward questioning the essence of nature or of Emersonian epistemology. Like Thoreau, who took Emerson’s transcendental rhetoric outdoors and subjected it to empirical experimentation, Long reifies ideas of nature through experience. The idea of “making” a walk is the central precept of his work. The walk’s design is the structuring principle which will give the art its final, documented form. Each journey has an itinerary, a direction, and an intention. This does not mean that its final form has been preconceived; to the contrary, each one is an exploration of the space and conditions that exist between two points. Open to receiving all stimuli, Long welcomes chance into his investigative equation.

His paintings, which usually consist of a circle rendered with thin veils of light-brown mud, articulate the rhythm and order of his walks. River Avon Mud Circle, 1989, is carefully constructed with layers of fine mud laid upon a dark-brown ground of acrylic paint. The slow buildup applied to the walls matches Long’s pace around the walk’s circumscribed area. The question arises as to whether or not such works successfully translate from nature to an art context. Long grapples with this predicament in a variety of ways. In Spanish Stones, he describes the cairns rather than photographically documenting them. The words’ formal layout recalls concrete poetry, and serves as a surrogate for the real objects. In Waterline, 1989, Long spills white acrylic paint across a long strip of black vinyl to represent his path. An emulsion has been added which bonds the pigment to the vinyl, making a permanent cohesion between the two. Instead of recreating an activity from destination to destination, Long has objectified it, constructing a transportable object with fine-art materials. This work asserts a much clearer distinction between gallery space and natural setting, taking into account both the viewer’s behavior and the representation of an individual’s subjective experience.

Kirby Gookin