This weekend I attended ‘Earth Art to Eco Art: An Anniversary Workshop’ at the A.D. White House at Cornell, a workshop held in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the landmark 1969 Earth Art Exhibit that took place at the A.D. White Museum of Art, when it housed the A.D. White Museum of Art. The event served to acknowledge the monumental contribution achieved by the exhibition, as well as to look at some of the directions art has taken over the last 40 years. In attendance were several of the original key figures from the event, such as Marilyn Rivchin who filmed the documentary footage of the installation of art objects from the Earth Art show and showed part of it to us; and the curator Willoughby Sharpe who was not able to attend as he is, sadly, terminally ill, but his wife Pamela attended in his absence, as well as the then-Museum Director Tom Leavitt who attended as the guest of honor despite having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Leavitt, it must be said, despite the difficulties of his condition, is as elegant, forward leaning and beautiful a man as I had always heard him to be. Of the original 8 artists who exhibited work at the Earth Art show, only Dennis Oppenheim was present.
Overall the workshop was interesting, engaging and at times overwhelmingly emotional. However, the progression ‘from Earth Art to Eco art’ and the indication that this is the deal, as it was presented over the two days, seems just a little bit too tidy and not quite the whole picture. Perhaps this is what happens when the art theorizing is primarily left to the art history professors. Oppenheim was, remarkably, the singular artist on the panel discussing the subject. Oppenheim noted in his plenary lecture on Friday, that landart was about ‘opening doors.’ If one looks at the history of art, the artists have been the ones doing the theorizing and whose ideas have been the fuel to opening the doors: Duchamp, Mondrian, Klee, Albers, Kandinski, Yves Klein, Motherwell, Smithson, etc, etc.
It is generally but not necessarily believed that Landart was the first form of expression to occur in Western art after the modern project ended. In this new conception, artworks were created out of air, water, stone, or earth, a walk, a gesture, a movement, space and time. A walk suddenly became a sculpture. While we can identify artforms today such as net art, public art, performance art, installation art, that clearly have origins in areas that landart started, I argue that ‘from earth art to eco art’ is not enough to address the whole picture of what it was that Landart opened exactly. Therefore, I hope that the language ‘workshop’ ascribed to the event means that this is only the beginning of a ‘preparation’ toward a deeper understanding of the subject, of what was the meaning of landart in terms of signifying a new cultural condition. As Smithson so eloquently phrased it: ‘The refuse between mind and matter is a mine of information,’ and ‘the mind and things of certain artists are not ‘unities,’ but things in a state of arrested disruption.’
Thus, a major contribution of landart could be that it no longer seems relevant to ask ‘is it art?’ but rather, ‘is it good art?’