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April 15, 2010, to October 16, 2011

Nancy Holt, Sun tunnels, 1973-1976,
Great Basin Desert, Utah,
4 concrete pipes with bored holes

Following the devastating impact of World War II, the arts were reinvented – the gestural abstraction of the New York School and of European Art Informel offers the most distinctive expression of this development. In the 1960s, it was then primarily American artists who completely devoted themselves to exploring the paths of nature. They were not interested in the observation of nature in the sense of a more or less contemplative act. The reverse was true: nature delivered the material that was converted into a means for creating art and that was transformed into the object of a series of research-oriented experiments. Another key factor was that the artistic process was neither limited to the artist's studio, nor did it take place 'in the presence of nature' as with the Impressionists; instead, the artists travelled to – usually remote – locations that were then transformed, sometimes on a grand scale. The source of this paradigm shift is among the first questions to be raised here – along with the resulting clarification of the extent to which the observation of nature not only becomes visible in the transformative act, but is perhaps also subverted.

Accordingly, the first step will be to research the historical foundations of the artists' investigative approach. Not only Robert Smithson, but Richard Long, Dennis Oppenheim, Mario Merz, and several others sometimes prepared for their Land Art projects in a manner appropriate to a geologist's expedition. Owing to the scientific nature of their approach, they provided themselves with maps providing precise information on elevations and geological formations, or they collected information from biologists in order to examine the individual species that lived there. They exhaustively investigated every possible consequence that might result from their plans for interventions. Richard Smithson, for example, set out on a research expedition to the terrain surrounding Utah's Great Salt Lake before altering the landscape on a grand scale with his 'spiral'.

Among other questions, the historic, societal, and political background of these actions remains to be explained. In the context of Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor, and the commencement of American and Soviet moon landings in the 1960s, the Land Art projects' conscious reduction to minimal forms appears relatively archaic; at the same time, they suggest deliberate 'anti-sites' in relation to the ever more overcrowded situation in metropolitan areas, particularly in the world's largest cities.

In the early years, the artists seem primarily to have sought open, sparsely inhabited – sometimes even pristine – natural environments. They intervened with correspondingly large-scale measures that can only be experienced through an exploration in person and on foot or from the air. The artists understood this grand scale as an appropriate response to the landscape. Nature is not considered an object of contemplation, let alone a place of refuge: it initially provides the basis for scientifically oriented studies and, in the end, an equal partner in a dialogue.

Spiral jetty, 1970 Rozel Point,
Großer Salzsee, Utah, 6783 Tonnen Felsen, Erde,
Geröll, Salzkristalle, Algen, Wasser,
Länge 450 m, Breite 4,50 m

Shortly thereafter, the relationship between nature, artist, and intervention shifted. The relationship to nature and the examination of its possibilities shifted away from the scientific approach and began to tend more and more toward the aesthetic gesture. However, there were significant exceptions: in the late 1970s, Agnes Denes clearly understood her 'Corn Field' as a political statement – inserted into the middle of Manhattan, in the immediate vicinity of Wall Street. Such art interventions positioned themselves as a protest, as an admonishment and a plea to not completely displace nature in a purely materialistic and a primarily capitalistically oriented (Western!) world. At the same time, this intervention is a powerful and self-confident public statement which demonstrates nature's power to survive. Nonetheless, such gestures remained relatively exceptional at that time.

Land Art in the form developed in the 1960s and early 1970s appeared in the 1980s and 1990s only in rare – albeit usually spectacular – projects. The works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude provide the preeminent examples: 'Running Fence', 'The Umbrellas' in Japan, and 'Surrounded Islands' outside Miami, among other projects. However, it is to be pointed out that, although these works present interventions in the natural environment, they are not Land Art in the original sense. Nature is no longer transformed through nature itself (as can be recognised by the fact that no natural materials are used); rather, the intervention is constructed in the form of a staged disruption, which is conceived in accordance with aesthetic criteria.

Particularly in the 1980s, the concept of Land Art largely disappeared – with the exception of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects. Highly sensitive and nuanced compositions, wholly inspired by nature, took its place. Here the material plays a part equally as important as that of the particular location, which is understood in terms of a 'genius loci'. British artists in particular, led by Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash, have redefined standards in this area.

Glenn Marshall, The Nest That Sailed The Sky#3

The exhibition aims to gain an understanding of these historical positions with the aid of sketches, artefacts, documents, models, photographs, and film material. The history of these developments goes back nearly fifty years, in which numerous changes in terms of positions, goals, and the use of materials have taken place. The most recent approaches – the artificial world of cyberspace, test-tube nature ¬– will be incorporated in the form of a concluding glimpse ahead. In terms of international relationships, the European art scene (as well as the rare experiment in Asia) has largely oriented itself according to American tendencies. Today many works by Smithson, Oppenheim, Longo, etc. are to be found in important collections (including the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Ludwig Forum, Aachen; as well as international galleries and private collections) or in the archives of the artists. For this reason, our initial goal is to illuminate and substantiate this thematic context with the help of exemplary works.


Ai Weiwei (CN)
Adam Berg (USA)
Christo & Jeanne-Claude (USA)
Walter de Maria (USA)
Agnes Denes (USA)
Jan Dibbets (NL)
Florian Dombois (D)
Toshikatsu Endo (J)
Hamish Fulton (GB)
Andy Goldsworthy (GB)
Hans Haacke (D)
Michael Heizer (USA)
Nancy Holt (USA)
Peter Hutchinson (USA)
Richard Long (GB)
Glenn Marshall (GB)
Robert Morris (USA)
David Nash (GB)
Dennis Oppenheim (USA)
Jaume Plensa (ES)
Charles Ross (USA)
Robert Smithson (USA)
James Turrell (USA)