Imagine what it must have been like for artists Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson to see the landscapes that would eventually hold their artworks for the first time. What did they think and dreamed about?
What inspires you in your own art practice?
Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson were among an early group of artists who began creating artwork in the land in the late 1960s. They were interested in creating art outside of gallery and museum systems that are not easily categorized or defined, envisioning new ways of thinking about and experiencing art. It is important to note, that these artists were not working in isolation. They knew each other, traveled and worked together. Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson were married and were important collaborators and contributors to each other’s work. The essence of Holt and Smithson’s work at this time was exploring and illuminating the periphery, spaces that are far away, often unwanted, difficult to get to and find.
Nancy Holt (1938- 2014)
Nancy Holt’s large body of work is extremely diverse and she is known for photography, video, sculpture, and installation work. As demonstrated in Sun Tunnels, Holt was interested in light, perspective, time, and space. Her obsession with sightlines and viewpoints is seen over and over again throughout her work, playing with ideas of framing, a camera, and lens.
Robert Smithson (1938 – 1973)
Robert Smithson was interested in earth and animal forms, mineralogy, science fiction, geology and time. His large body of artwork throughout his short life includes writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, film and photography. Smithson was interested in the second law of thermodynamics that discusses entropy - the concept that nature moves from order to disorder. Imagine if left alone, what would Spiral Jetty look like in a hundred years, a thousand, a million? Do you think it would look the same or different than it did when it was built in 1970 or even today? Might entropy have anything to do with this?
One of my favorite things I do each year is explore Land art in Utah with students; this is also some of my most challenging work. Transportation, administrative support, class schedules, and testing all are formidable opponents to field trips, especially all-day trips to sites that are hours away on dirt roads. Currently, we are only able to provide student trips to Spiral Jetty because it is a little easier to access than Sun Tunnels, but I hope to do trips with students to each site in the coming years. We have found that working with administrators and teachers to create partnerships and collaborations provide more buy-in on these experiences. We also pay for transportation, provide curricula for on-site lessons and activities, and cover all costs for supplies and snacks. On site, we have discussions about Smithson’s work, Spiral Jetty, and Land arts’ place in the history of visual culture. Students explore the site through different lessons including, Portrait of Place (I’ve included it below), where they gather different materials they find on-site into vials. They curate their vials and display them in a sculpture to create a portrait of Spiral Jetty and its landscape. This curricula is standard-aligned and promotes a focused exploration of the artwork and site.
As we have explored this month, the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s primary goal as a steward of Land art in Utah is to provide education and access to these incredible works of art. Through community meet-ups, family programming, and K-12 resources, our hope is to give people the information and incentive they need to get out and explore Utah’s wild places. I hope the posts this month has been informative and have inspired a deeper look at Land art for you and your classroom or institution. If you have been to these sites before, visit them again, and if you haven’t – start planning your adventure now! Feel free to contact the UMFA with questions or to learn more about Land art and using it in your teaching. It’s been great writing about Land art this month, but now I have an itch to get out and explore these amazing places again! See you in the desert!