Artists’ earthworks of the 1960s and ’70s are one reason to venture into the unforgiving deserts they often occupy (the other being hallucinogenic vision quests). The remote sites had a practical allure for artists who were drawn to large swaths of uninterrupted landscape where natural elements could mutate the work. But the distance from big cities also helped remove Land art from the economic forces of the art world. (Dave Hickey offered some skeptical commentary on that notion in his 1971 essay on Land art for this magazine).
Monumental projects in remote locales by Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Nancy Holt draw adventurous tourists, some of whom upload amateur documentation of their pilgrimages to YouTube. Still, accessibility is not the aim of Land art projects, which often require epic feats of engineering. The difficulty of getting there is what gives Earthworks their exotic appeal.
As A.i.A. senior editor William S. Smith pointed out in his essay on Michael Heizer (whose 1970 installation Actual Size: Munich Rotary is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through April 10) our April issue, “Land art was photogenic out of necessity . . . images produced in tandem with the construction of giant earthworks could greatly expand the works’ aesthetic and conceptual range.” In that spirit, we’ve gathered selection of archival and recent footage of or about iconic earthworks. Beginning with cinematic aerial views of Heizer’s Double Negative (1970), our YouTube playlist concludes with a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to the venerated movement by Sondra Perry.