Robert Smithson – Spiral Jetty, via Wikimedia
Landscapes speak to us. Soaring mountains, deep canyons, wide seas—all fodder for song lyrics. But what is it that these expanses of natural space say to us? In the 1970s, a number of artists attempted to discover the answer by venturing out into that space, moving from the realm of representation into manipulation.
There was something monumental to these works. Artists like Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson crafted on massive scale, human attempts to transfigure the landscape into an ideal image, to replicate the environment in an orthogonal direction, cutting it with marks not unlike the Nazca lines in Peru, or building upward like the pyramids of Central America and Egypt. By positioning projects in the outdoors, these artists broke outside of the limiting confines of the museum, to consider the world, in its totality, as the situating place for art.