Until the late ’80s, a gigantic landfill stood next to the Turnpike in the Meadowlands of Kearny, New Jersey. Just outside New York City, along the Hackensack River, local industry had turned much of the wetland area into an unsightly and polluted wasteland. Sky Mound, a huge work of public art, was one of the first projects aimed at conservation of the Meadowlands, and most people don’t even notice it.
Artist Nancy Holt began the work, which is an ongoing project, in 1988. Holt’s art can be placed into the Land Art school, which was exemplified by large-scale outdoor projects involving the movement and shaping of soil, rocks, and water to create monumental art pieces out of the Earth itself. And Sky Mound is unequivocally a land art piece: an enormous mound of earth covered in grass that rises up out of the flat industrial landscape. But at the same time, it serves an environmentally-friendly and functional purpose; the mound reclaimed the space of a landfill and is now a sanctuary for migratory birds. Sky Mound is also meant to raise awareness about how we deal with garbage, and Holt, who died in 2014, planned on using methane from the former landfill to provide energy for the neighboring communities.
For many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, however, Sky Mound remains unknown, even if they drive by it every day. For now, the work is quietly doing its job of conservation and beautification. Given the alternative of staring at an ugly landfill, taking a large-scale artwork for granted is surely the better option.