Artists: Lara Almarcegui, Francis Alÿs, Marinus Boezem, Pierre Bismuth, Tacita Dean, Walter Maria, Mario Garcia Torres, Nancy Holt, Jan Robert Leegte, Richard Long, Zeger Reyers, Robert Smithson, Theo Tegelaers, James Turrell, Guido Werve

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An exhibition entitled Expedition land art is being held from 19 September 2015 to 3 January 2016 (inclusive) at Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort. The exhibition marks the publication of a Dutch-language book of the same name: Expeditie land art by Sandra Smallenburg. Although museum collections in the Netherlands contain many works by leading international land artists, this is the first ever major exhibition on the land art movement to be held anywhere in the Netherlands. The main emphasis in the show is on six international pioneering land artists (Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, James Turrell, Richard Long and Marinus Boezem) and their influence on a younger generation (Francis Alÿs, Tacita Dean, Mario Garcia Torres, Zeger Reyers, Pierre Bismuth and Lara Almarcegui).

Pioneering land artists

In the late sixties, a number of artists on both sides of the Atlantic decided to leave the safe white walls of art galleries and museums and set off into the wilderness. In the United States, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria drove out deep into the desert to make their mark on sand flats and salt lakes. In Europe, Richard Long and Marinus Boezem started to work with materials found in the landscape: materials like rocks, stones, trees and branches.

Those land art pioneers had an influence that is only now, almost half a century later, really clear. The idea that artworks can be created on site, in places far beyond the walls of the established institutions, has taken permanent root in the contemporary art field. So has the idea that a journey can be a work of art, presenting inspiration at every turn. Land art has turned art into an adventure. The air of freedom and bravura that surrounds the artworks of the sixties and seventies still permeates and inspires the art of today. 

Land art in Kunsthal KAdE

This exhibition shows how much today’s artists owe to the pioneering land artists of the past. Francis Alÿs and Guido van der Werve have followed them out into deserts and polar regions. Tacita Dean and Mario Garcia Torres have made pilgrimages to places where Robert Smithson worked. Zeger Reyers and Lara Almarcegui work with materials found in nature. And their constant lust for adventure keeps the spirit of the pioneers alive.

The forthcoming exhibition includes work by:
Lara Almercegui (ES, 1972) | Francis Alÿs (BE, 1959) | Marinus Boezem (NL, 1934) | Pierre Bismuth (FR, 1963) | Tacita Dean (UK, 1965) | Walter De Maria (US, 1935 - 2013) | Mario Garcia Torres (MX, 1975) | Nancy Holt (US, 1938 - 2014) | Jan Robert Leegte (NL, 1973) | Richard Long (UK, 1945) | Zeger Reyers (NL, 1966) | Robert Smithson (US, 1938 - 1973) | Theo Tegelaers (NL, 1963) | James Turrell (US, 1943) | Guido van der Werve (NL, 1977) 

Key exhibits in the main gallery will be Richard Long’s 1977 installation Wood Circle – a wooden circle 700 cm in diameter, which is now in the collection of the Van Abbemuseum – and a reconstruction of Marinus Boezem’s 1968 installation Rietveld bewogen door ventilatoren (‘Reed bed moved by fans’). Richard Long is a British artist who creates his works in the course of long walks. He uses stones to construct sculptures, digs lines in the desert sand, or constructs circles of twigs or branches on the ground – images which he then records by photographing them. Ever since the late seventies, Long has also made a habit of bringing his found natural materials back inside the walls of the museum. He uses fragments of slate or bits of wood to make perfect circles or rectangles on the gallery floor, arranging them like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Marinus Boezem comes from the Netherlands. Rietveld bewogen door ventilatoren is a conceptual work designed to make viewers aware of the structure of a reed bed by using electric fans to blow waves in it. In addition to these two full-size installations, the display will include a number of sketches, photographs and prints by the two artists. Richard Long’s 1986 installation White Marble Line will also be on show. 

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson’s film documenting the construction of Spiral Jetty will be shown in one of Kunsthal KAdE’s smaller exhibition spaces. Smithson's great earthwork sculpture was built in 1970 on the eastern shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. It is 450 metres long and contains 7000 tons of basalt. When it was built, parts of the lake were blood-red with algal blooms and Smithson (a keen fan of J.G. Ballard’s science fiction) said that the landscape there make him think of Mars. Shortly after the sculpture was completed, the level of the lake rose and the jetty disappeared under water. For three decades, it could be seen only in photographs. In 2002, however, a persistent drought led to the re-emergence of Spiral Jetty, now encrusted with white salt. Ever since then, it has once again been possible to visit the work. To get there involves a thirty-kilometre drive over bumpy tracks traversing a landscape of unearthly beauty.

Pilgrimage to the Spiral Jetty

In 1997, British artist Tacita Dean made a pilgrimage to the Spiral Jetty, but came to grief on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Smithson’s jetty was still submerged at the time and there were no signposts to help her identify the site. So Dean’s quest was in vain, although it did produce her sound piece Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (included in this exhibition). Years later, in 2013, Dean journeyed to the area again. Following in the footsteps of Smithson and Holt, she made a road trip across Utah, Nevada and California. The otherworldly landscapes she filmed on the way were as deserted as they had been in Smithson’s time, almost half a century earlier. In her film JG (also on show in the exhibition), the weird crystalline formations of Mono Lake, bizarre reflections of the Great Salt Lake and shimmering salt flats of the Great Basin form a timeless backdrop against which armadillos slowly pick their way and water drops glide over the salt crusts. The exhibition will also feature Dean’s massive photogravure Quatemary (234 x 683 cm, 2014). 

Green Cathedral and Celestial Vault

Just outside Almere there is a magnificent gothic cathedral that has literally grown up out of the flat polder land in the last thirty years. Marinus Boezem outlined the ground plan for the church in 1987 by planting 178 Lombardy poplars to mark its walls and columns. Since then, the trees have grown into sturdy thirty-metre columns and today the Green Cathedral really feels like a triple-aisled church, with concrete paths reflecting the ribs of the imaginary cross-vaulting. Boezem based his (150 x 75 m) ground plan on that of Reims cathedral, the supreme example of gothic church architecture. In a forested area alongside the Green Cathedral, the artist has also created a clearing of precisely the same size and shape: a ‘negative’ of the cathedral. Seen from the air, it looks exactly as if the hand of God has lifted up a group of trees in the shape of a cathedral and set them down a couple of hundred metres away. 

Meanwhile, in the Arizona desert, American artist James Turrell has been working for over forty years to create his masterpiece Roden Crater. He intends this huge volcanic crater to become a place where people can come to obtain a supreme view of the sky and stars. In 1996, Turrell gave us a foretaste of Roden Crater when he created Celestial Vault: a somewhat smaller, entirely man-made crater in the dunes by Kijkduin. The visitor is invited to lie back on a stone bench and gaze at the sky. With a little concentration, he or she can experience a small miracle: the horizon appears to bend and the sky to arch upwards, giving the viewer the sensation of being imprisoned under a vast bell-jar. Turrell’s work is represented in this exhibition by models, photographs and sketches.

Sun Tunnels

The exhibition will also include several videos by Nancy Holt (Robert Smithson’s widow) – Swamp (1969), Sun Tunnels (1978) and The Making of Amarillo Ramp (1973-2013) – and her film Mono Lake (1973-2013). In 1974 Holt purchased sixteen hectares of desert land west of the Great Salt Lake, on the Nevada- Utah border. There, hours away from habitation, she had four concrete sewer pipes set down. Each is over five metres long and weighs 22 tons. They are precisely aligned to frame the sun as it rises and sets at the summer and winter solstices. Holt had holes bored in the tops of the pipes in the shape of various constellations. Whenever the fierce desert sun shines through them, the constellations are projected onto the floor of the tunnels. The pipes are big enough to stand in. Their circular apertures frame the view of the surrounding desert landscape – a scene unchanged for millions of years. The pipes act as a viewing aid, but also as a sundial. Like a contemporary version of Stonehenge, they mark the progress of the seasons, moving with the rotation of the Earth and catching the rays of the sun at regular intervals.

Free Floating Tree in the gallery staircase

Zeger Reyers has created a site-specific artwork to be displayed in the middle of Kunsthal KAdE’s split level staircase for the duration of this exhibition. In Free Floating Tree, a living tree will be positioned horizontally within the staircase. Tipping the tree away from its natural direction of growth will create in the viewer the sense that its growth and potential are frustrated. At the same time, however, an artificial light source will be used to induce the tree to grow in that direction. The work also plays with current ideas about cultivated greenery.

Free Floating Tree will remain on display – although in a slightly different form – in Kunsthal KAdE’s next exhibition, The Way Things Go (about cause and effect, expected 23 January – 8 May 2016).

Breaking Ground: Broken Circle / Spiral Hill

Visitors will have the chance to view Breaking Ground: Broken Circle / Spiral Hill (1971-2011) in the film projection space. American artist Robert Smithson created his world-famous artwork Broken Circle/ Spiral Hill (1971) in a sand quarry belonging to the De Boer company in Emmerschans, near Emmen (The Netherlands). As part of this ‘earthwork’ project, Smithson recorded its construction in video images shot from a plane or helicopter. The artist’s early death in 1973 prevented the completion of the video. However, forty years after the completion of the sculpture in Emmen, the video was finally made, with his widow Nancy Holt editing the images and working in partnership with SKOR / Foundation for Art in Public Domain (Theo Tegelaars) and a Dutch crew. It uses a combination of original material shot in 1971 and new images and sound recordings made in Emmen in the spring of 2011.

Spirit of land art pioneers living on in artists of today

The spirit of the original land art pioneers informs the work of innumerable artists of today. It is easy to spot. It is evident, for instance, in Guido van der Werve’s magical video Nummer Acht: Everything is going to be alright (2007), in which the artist walks alone over a frozen sea, followed close on his heels by a huge icebreaker. Or in Francis Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains (a work made in 2002 just outside Lima, Peru) or in Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres’s film The Schlieren Plot. For more information on each of these works, simply click on its title.