Los Angeles

Richard Long


Richard Long tends to be a bit predictable— another ring of rocks, another circle of mud. If you were to find someone unfamiliar with his work, you could make an easy penny by wagering just before entering a Long exhibition that you would soon be in the presence of basic geometric forms and materials pulled raw from the earth. But you shouldn’t bet on anything other than the generalities: In the nuances and subtleties, Long always surprises, and his trademark motifs are always fresh.

Long recently had his first LA show in almost a decade, and it reiterated his devotion to the designs and media of his choice: circles, ovals, curved and rectilinear spirals, columns, and rows offered up in rock and clay. The exhibition includes some standards: a large circular arrangement of material (this time, petrified wood) laying claim to the gallery floor; and, in a small outdoor space, an equally familiar arrangement of the same material in descending size in a simple column. But these pieces, made of large units and implying the large efforts of their creation, were quieted by the presence of twenty-some intimately scaled works, created in minute gestures with minimal quantities of material.

This show’s combination of gesture and increment involved neither the plunking down of large stones nor the arm-stretching smears and muddy handprints that have characterized many of Long’s floor arrangements and wall paintings. 2000 Fingerprints (all works 2000), one of the few titled works in the show, offset the massive petrified-wood floor piece with a large, tightly wound spiral of tiny fingerprints made directly on the gallery wall in Long’s beloved mud from the River Avon, which runs through the artist’s lifelong hometown of Bristol. The piece offered a bridge between macro and micro, taking on a bold presence from across the room as so much of Long’s work does, but also inviting the viewer to approach and examine every mark, every deposit.

Together, the use of petrified wood in the floor arrangements and the reduction of mark size in the wall piece provided a visual and material link to the other smaller works in the show: geometric designs of fingerprints in China clay and River Avon mud on petite strips of various woods. It seemed at first as though Long had started making souvenirs of his larger pieces, but then another possibility set in. The relationship between these portable works and his installed pieces seemed rather like that between devotional paintings or statuettes and ecclesiastical altars or large murals. Long’s smaller works command a space that is individual, finite, and quiet, and they encourage one to dwell, whereas the larger pieces involve space in a public, expansive manner that compels the viewer to step back from them. Yet I prefer to think of Long’s work as meditative, not spiritual or romantic—it offers the chance for a focused, intimate, filtered experience of natural forms and materials. And while his previous works have offered peripheral-vision-filling opportunities to stand back in awe, his latest efforts encourage a consideration that is up close and personal.

Christopher Miles