A young Ed Ruscha appears on the cover of Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 (Prestel), pointing at the dirt on the side of the road that stretches beyond him to distant, sun-baked hills. The volume was published in conjunction with the recently opened exhibition at LA MOCA, set to travel this fall to Haus der Kunst in Münich. The grainy, black-and-white photograph is from Royal Road Test (1967), an artist's book done in collaboration with Patrick Blackwell and Mason Williams that documents the destruction of a Royal typewriter tossed from the window of a car speeding along Highway 91 in the southern California desert. By bringing works such as Royal Road Test to their discussion of Land art (aka Earthworks or Earth art), the exhibition's organizers, Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, aim to broaden the historical view of a movement now primarily associated with large-scale, remotely located projects in the American West that required heavy equipment to construct and tend to resist commodification.
To be sure, such canonical works as Michael Heizer's Double Negative (1970) and Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1972) are given due consideration in the text. But by focusing on unaccustomed artists, forms and sites, the twelve texts—essays, interviews, statements—in this revisionist history collectively argue that Land art was international, sometimes urban, media-friendly and camera-ready, and frequently in step with the "art system."
The texts also depict a period when the boundaries between artistic disciplines were particularly fluid, sometimes dissolving completely. Heinz Mack's 25-minute Tele-Mack (1968), made for German television and shot in the Sahara Desert, documents the Sahara Project series of gleaming aluminum steles rising mirage-like from the sands: sculpture as performance by way of film. Neil Jenney, who would achieve renown as a "Bad" Painter in the 1970s, is represented by Untitled (1969), a sculpture (his last) made of found wood, resembling a ramshackle shelving unit for the display of dirt. Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner's A 2" Wide 1" Deep Trench Cut Across a Standard One Car Driveway (1968) existed only as a verbal description for years before the artist executed it at the residence of a collector in Mamaroneck, New York.
The book (and the exhibition, which represents immovable and no longer or never extant projects by way of related drawings, photographs, proposals and other original works) is about making new connections, not rehashing old ones. Accordingly, in "Transatlantic Crossings: The Case of Münich 1968-1972," Haus der Kunst curator Julienne Lorz considers the reception and manifestation of Land art in Europe, centered in Münich, from Walter De Maria's 50 m3 (1,600 Cubic Feet) Level Dirt (1968) at Galerie Heiner Friedrich, to rejected proposals by De Maria, Heizer, Andre, Mathais Goeritz and others for projects connected to the 1972 Olympic Games. A disastrous Heizer project for the Detroit Institute of Arts, Dragged Mass Displacement (1971), is the centerpiece for art historian Julian Myers' observations on the problems that attend to audiences for art works that assault the urban illusion of order. Critic and art historian Tom Holert reflects on the role of pictorial magazines and other media in the dissemination and popular reception of Land art. The book includes statements by gallerist Virginia Dwan, who bankrolled or otherwise facilitated numerous major works, and curator Willoughby Sharp, whose 1969 exhibition "Earth Art" rivals Dwan's "Earthworks" of the previous year in importance for the fortunes and reputation of the new work.
Curator Seth Siegelaub's important but little-known 1968 exhibition "Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner" at Windham College in Putnam, Vermont, gave those artists early opportunities to realize outdoor projects. In an interview with Kaiser and Kwon, Siegelaub reflects on how streamlining the art historical record belies the messy diversity of actual practice: "I've always felt that ‘isms' and categories hide as much as they reveal. And with the hardening of categories over time, the positioning of the frame of attention, you end up not being able to see the edges." By focusing on the edges of the Land art moment, Ends of the Earth insists that they enclose far more territory-performative, sculptural, and conceptual-than art-historical convention has allowed.