Art Projects

California Map Project

{California Map Project, 1969, by John Baldessari}

Somehow I missed learning about this piece until just recently, but it’s my new favorite work of “land art.” In 1969, John Baldessari took the map of California (lower right) and then went to each place on the map where the map letters spelling ‘California’ would be located. At these sites, he spelled out the letter in rocks or some other way, or maybe he found them. I don’t know exactly how he mad the piece, but it’s a pretty hilarious work and definitely in line with my other favorite piece of land art, Bruce Nauman’s untitled text piece which states, “Leave the Land Alone.” (A whole issue of Mammut was devoted to this text piece.)

Unfortunately, the online images of Baldessari’s piece aren’t that great. I’ll keep my eyes open for a better version, maybe in a book image that can be scanned. I also just read an excellent Dave Hickey piece on land art from the September-October 1971 issue of Art in America. In it, Hickey examines the perceived notion that land or earth artists were challenging the status of object production or the space of the museum. This is a viewpoint that still seems to be thrown around today. Hickey points out that the work was marketable and that many museums commissioned land art projects. He goes on to write that

It is not the Earth artists who are challenging the market and the museums, but the magazines themselves. Earth art and its unpackageable peers cannot hurt the market, but extensive magazine coverage can, since not as much object art will get exposure. The magazines have found in this unpackageable art a vehicle through which they can declare their independence from art dealers who invented the critical press, nurtured it, and have tended to treat it like a wholly own subsidiary. Now there is an art form ideally suited to presentation via magazine. Work consisting of photographs and documentation is not presented by journalism, but as journalism—a higher form—needless to say.

The people on the magazines must believe (and I think rightly) that these indefinite art forms might do for the magazines what Pop Art did for the dealers—lend a certain institutional luster,, and with it a modicum of arbitrary power.

It’s a great read of Earth Art and it makes sense to me. And works like Baldessari’s map project or Nauman’s text piece point to movements spawned by Earth Art, such as environmental art, where it’s not about bulldozers and diesel or creating monuments, but instead a use of land in a way that is less invasive. And artists have come up with a variety of strategies to turn that kind of art into careers—whether that means founding their own non-profits, existing on museum commissions or yes, making things for galleries. It’s hard to be a rebel these days, but there are still interesting things to do.

Go to Eco Art Blog

Finding unforbidden fruit in Los Angeles

It’s eleven years since I lived in Los Angeles. Something subtle seems to have shifted here, and for the better. One example of why is Fallen Fruit, a collective of two artists and a writer who live in the Silverlake district who started to map all the fruit and trees in their neighbourhood, the ones which had branches hanging over onto sidewalks so you can pluck their oranges or figs for free.

I’m here for a couple of days researching art projects that are about growing food and about the places where you grow it so I’m due to meet them later in the day. In the morning I check out their website, For the last couple of years they’ve been holding Public Fruit Jams – communal jam-making sessions –  handing out free fruit trees for people to plant next to their fences, or encouraging others to make fuit maps of their neighbourhoods.

I notice that there’s a map for where I’m staying – Echo Park, made by someone who’s taken up their enthusiasm. After a couple of minutes trying to figure it out I notice there’s a group of fruit trees right next to my friend’s house. I walk 30 yards out of the door and there they are, just as they are shown on the map, right next to each other. A lemon tree overhanging the pavement, fat with ripe yellow fruit, and right next to it a small fig tree, figs just a few weeks away from  being ripe. I stand there, smiling, ridiculously happy to have found them.

They’re by no means the only example of this kind of strangely unironic sincerity that has taken root among some of the art projects here. I’m also here to see the artist Fritz Haeg whose Edible Estates Attack on the Front Lawn has been encouraging people to replace the uniformity of grass with fruit and vegetables.

I reach up and pluck a lemon from the tree. I doubt I’d have even noticed these trees  normally.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog