Land Art, a term coined by the artist Robert Smithson, is a movement that occurred in the U.S. during the late 1960s and during the 1970s. However, the art form has existed for thousands of years. Land Art is a work of art created with and embodied by the physical landscape. The movement sought to take art out of museums and set it within a natural context. Many works of Land Art are temporary or left to change with the elements of nature. The best known work of contemporary Land Art is Spiral Jetty (1970) which Smithson created as a protrusion into Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
The essential feature of Land Art is the inseparable link between the work of art and the landscape in which it is placed. Land Art is often comprised of such materials as stone, bed rock, water, branches and other natural elements, but concrete, metal, and pigments are often employed as well. Initially Land Art became popular in the American Southwest, but these works now only exist as photographs or recordings. The artists of these works began to create Land Art as a way to condemn the artificiality of commercialized art that was popular during their era. The first work termed as Land Art was created at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture by artists Douglas Leichter and Richard Saba.
Because projects were often large in scale, artists required the use of equipment in order to move the earth to their design. As these projects were frequently costly, the artists depended largely upon supporting foundations or private patrons. For this reason, Land Art declined during the hard economic times of the 1970s. Smithson, the leading figure of the movement, died in a plane crash in 1973. However, other prominent Land Art artists include Hans Haacke, Alice Aycock, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, James Turrell, and Andrew Rogers.
Land Art is not confined to the U.S. either. The art form exists throughout Europe and is today growing in popularity in Africa. Land Art, which is additionally known as Earthwork, does not always disappear into the landscape and many famous works may still be viewed along with their changes over time. And, although the art form is not as popular as it once was, it is still used by various contemporary artists like Alan Sonfist, Walter De Maria, and Richard Long. Works of Land Art often depict both abstract and familiar imagery in the designs.