Loveladies — The “LandWorks” exhibit, currently at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences until July 14 and curated by LBIF’s Lydia Owens, recognizes the 50th anniversary of an “Earthworks” exhibit held at LBIF in 1969 that contained a surprising number of soon-to-be-famous artists. Those with the best name recognition would be Christo, who with Jeanne-Claude would create the 23-mile-long “The Gates” installation in Central Park, sculptor Robert Smithson and composer Phillip Glass.
The current exhibit of 16 international artists continues the themes of that early “Earthworks” exhibit: site-specific installations; use of environmental subject matter such as Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” a 1,500-foot-long spiral made of rocks, mud and salt crystals built in 1970 in Utah’s Great Salt Lake; and performance art like Glass’ minimalist music of recurring sounds.
Tom Moran, chief curator for Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park located in Hamilton, was invited to lay the historical groundwork of the exhibit. Moran’s lecture was originally prepared in 2017 for an audience in China, many of whom were seeing American sculptures for the first time.
Moran gave a quick overview of Grounds for Sculpture that was once the site of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. When Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical heir Seward Johnson first saw the site it was “a flat tableau of broken concrete, stunted plants and abandoned buildings,” said Moran. “It also had been a NASCAR racetrack and had a total of 13 trees.”
Grounds for Sculpture had its 25th anniversary in 2015 and continues to be one of the premier places where contemporary, large-scale sculpture is on public view.
Surprisingly, many of the “Earthworks” and “LandWorks” artists are from New Jersey and many created art in New Jersey – in particular, in the Meadowlands. “Artists seem to be captivated by the vast grasslands,” said Moran.
For instance, sculptor Isaac Witkin, an assistant to Henry Moore, lived and worked in Pemberton. He created steel sculptures by casting them in sand. Ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu taught at Princeton and had a home and studio in Quakertown. She created huge domed pots that resemble silkworm cocoons; she is often credited as creating the ceramic fine arts movement. Renowned female sculptor Louise Nevelson got her start in Princeton when the university purchased her large wooden assemblage.
Steve Tobin lives and has his studio just over the Delaware in Pennsylvania and has many sculptures installed in Grounds for Sculpture. His “Trinity Roots” sculpture, for which he cast the network of tree roots from the large tree at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, garnered him worldwide recognition. His series of “Steel Roots” made of tubular steel takes command of hillsides at Grounds for Sculpture. The fluid lines set in the earth appear to be marching across them.
Moran talked of how artists in the late ’60s and ’70s were trying to break into the New York art world that was still entranced with the abstract expressionists of the 1950s: Joseph Stella’s paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge, Jackson Pollack’s drip or action paintings. The new art movements were gaining attention: Ellsworth Kelly’s op art, the pop art of Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, the combined assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg, minimalism of sculptor Donald Judd, hard-edge painting of Joseph Stella and color field paintings of Mark Rothko. NYC was the new epicenter of the art world and was awash with money, explained Moran. “Earth artists were looking for a way to penetrate this.”
Smithson, from Clifton, started his art career as a minimalist like Judd but quickly changed to conceptualism and site-specific artworks. He was interested in cartography, geography and how man has changed the natural world and landscape. He coined the term “land art.” Smithson and wife Nancy Holt traveled the world looking for sites to alter. In 1969 in Italy, he transformed a rock quarry by dumping a truckload of asphalt down the cliff side. “Asphalt Rundown” was captured in photographs and drawings, the only way to sell the work. He was also enthralled with placing mirrors in the landscape and altering the view with reflections.
Smithson’s “Partially Buried Woodshed” in Kent, Ohio, was his take on what geological time will do to all manmade constructions.
At the same time, artist Carl Andre, a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad that went through the New Jersey Meadowlands, began his sculptural work by positioning materials on the ground. His philosophy that “sculpture is place” helped to formalize the land art movement. One artist who worked in the early land art movement is Charles Simondo, from Sayreville, who builds “Lost Cities” cast in concrete and installs them on decaying urban landscapes and in the Meadowlands. The small sculptures are akin to the Pueblo cliff dwellings of the Southwest. Another is Richard Serra, whose “Tilted Arc,” a linear barrier across a federal plaza, was finally dismantled after protests. Women artists include Beverly Pepper, who defined a landscape by mounding and forming earth with steel barriers, and Maya Lin, whose famous Vietnam War Memorial is in Washington, D.C.
Martha Schwartz has done more to combine art with landscape design than any other artist. Her design firm has worked all over the world to install parks and enhance public spaces. In New York, she designed the circular benches around self-misting grass mounds at the Jacob Javits Center. Schwartz is one of the 16 contemporary artists showcased in the “LandWorks” exhibit at LBIF.
Nicole Dextras is a Vancouver artist whose works in ice and their subsequent melting draw attention to climate change. Her work is presented in photos, the medium that is most appropriate for ephemeral works such as hers.
A number of artists experiment with light in the landscape. Sunil Garg has created both indoor and outdoor installations for the LBIF. His five wonky triangles, “Is It/It Is,” set along LBIF’s nature trail, gleam in the night marsh. Darren Pearson delights us with his skeletons and dinosaurs made out of light by stop-action photography. Reuben Wu’s “Lux Noctis” are site-specific works captured in film. He goes to remote landscapes and lights them with halos created by drones.
Alejandro Durán’s work in the field identifies plastic waste that has washed ashore at a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico. He uses the plastic from 58 nations to create color-based, site-specific constructions there – filling rock crags and tide pools with plastic bottle tops for “Found Objects.”
Thomas Jackson’s hovering installations create “an uneasy interplay between the natural and the manufactured,” like his image of orange plastic cups exploding out of a lush green hillside.
David Rubin’s “The Healing Waters” installation mimics a rippled riverbed at a NYC hospital and is an accessible fountain for those who need assistance to move.
Ken Smith’s landscape architecture “addresses contemporary urbanism, social and environmental conditions.” He has created a site-specific work, “Ghost Trees,” in the forest surrounding the LBIF’s nature trail. Smith will speak on Friday, July 12 at 5 p.m., followed by an artists’ reception at 6 p.m. “LandWorks” closes on Sunday, July 14.
– Pat Johnson