What is Land Art? Read the ARTnews Guide to the Movement – ARTnews.com

Deep in the Nevada badlands, not far from the U.S. Air Force base that houses Area 51, a fantastical, monumental structure rises in a scrub-filled valley. Measuring one and a half miles long and a half mile wide, it’s built out of unfathomable amounts of dirt, gravel, and concrete, packed, groomed, and smoothed into a sinuous procession of mounds, berms, roadways, and basins. A sculpted vista bookended at either end by brutalist edifices resembling extraterrestrial highway interchanges, the place looks like a fever dream from the TV show Ancient Aliens.

City, as it’s called, is the handiwork of artist Michael Heizer, who constructed it over a period of 50 years at the cost of $40 million, marking it as a watershed achievement of a genre that Heizer helped to pioneer: Land art.

Not to be confused with outdoor sculpture, which uses nature as a backdrop for an object that could potentially be moved elsewhere, Land art (a term used interchangeably with Earth Art or earthworks) is site-specific—that is, linked directly to its location so that it can exist only there and nowhere else.

Emerging during the late 1960s and early ’70s, Land art was coeval with the nascent environmental movement as well as the larger countercultural ethos that played out in the art world as a rejection of the entire system for creating and distributing art. Since Land art shunned urban environments altogether, it was arguably the most radical expression of this idea.

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