- Suzaan Boettger
Vast environments constructed of earth, or markings on it, made from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. The largely young, male New York sculptors who created them extended minimalism’s arrays of units making interior ‘environments’ into open outdoor spaces. The earthen cuts and mounds were made on remote terrain of little economic worth, such as western deserts and, as materials that would provide structure and permanence were eschewed, earthworks’ forms were transient—either ephemeral or unstable.
Robert Smithson’s announcement in the June 1967 issue of Artforum that ‘The “boring”, like other “earth works” [two words], is becoming more and more important to artists. Pavements, holes, trenches, mounds, heaps, paths, ditches, roads, terraces, etc., all have an esthetic potential’ sparked this informal movement. A strong post-war economy, ensuing social optimism, and a baby-boomer, youth-driven, fervently anti-tradition, anti-Establishment, pro-innovation mood fuelled sculptors’ expansion of materials, locales, and scale. But while countering high culture, the earthworkers were not turning towards ‘nature’. Garnering cultural cachet due to the concurrence with nascent environmentalism and the hippies’ ‘back-to-nature’ movement, the ambitious sculptors specifically rejected connection to ‘Mother Nature’, an association they considered romantic and propagandistic but which was nevertheless adopted by critics as a catchy rationale. The works’ wilderness locales, coarse materials, and massive amounts of displaced earth demonstrate that these were not idyllic pastorals....