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A Tour of Spectacular 1970s Art Made From the Landscape Itself

Eight places to witness the incredible ambition of the Southwest land art movement.

The Southwestern United States is full of wide open spaces, and these sparsely populated desert states became the ideal blank canvas for the land-art movement of the 1970s. Land art is site-specific artwork that uses nature—earth, air, light, water—as the medium. Born of a weariness of New York gallery and museum spaces, the land art movement sought to explode art outside of four walls and a roof, and to discover what artists could create without physical boundaries.

Contemporary arts organization Dia Art Foundation, along with other museums and wealthy patrons, furnished artists with millions of dollars of grant money to construct giant landscape-altering works in remote locations, like the Spiral Jetty, a curl of land that juts into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, created by Robert Smithson, who, along with Michael Heizer, pioneered the land-art movement. While some of these works were ephemeral and have since been swallowed up by time and erosion, many of them are not only still visible, but still evolving. Some of these ambitious works of art took decades to complete, and some may never be completed.

Today, several of these site-specific works of art are open to the public and well worth a trip, although some of them require a guide (and sometimes an ATV) to access. Here are eight of the most interesting land art works in the American Southwest. Are there some we’ve forgotten? Add them to the Atlas!


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