Saturday, June 28, 2008

A crater formed by a one-ton bomb, or an acre of bluebonnets

Visiting somewhere like Orsanmichele in Florence, we are grateful for the opportunity to see the combined talents of artists like Donatello, Nanni de Banco and Ghiberti, who were each commissioned to provide sculptures for the site. Land art nearly had a special place of this kind: the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. If things had gone differently in 1966-7, the airport could now have had pioneering Earthworks by Robert Smithson, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt and Robert Morris. Here’s how Robert Smithson described the project at the time:

‘The object of this proposal is to “program” the landscape and define the limits of the air terminal site in a new way. Such a project would set a precedent and create an original approach to the esthetics of airport landscaping. All these works will be close to ground level (the highest being 3 feet). Robert Smithson and Robert Morris will build forms that will be visible to aircraft as they take off and land. Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre will provide works that will deal with the “sub-site,” and exist as underground landmarks.’

The story of the airport project is told in Suzaan Boettger’s book Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties. Walther Prokosch, an architect with the Manhattan firm T.A.M.S., had heard Smithson give a talk in June 1966, in which he described the city as a “crystalline network”, an idea similar to the modular design being developed for the airport by T.A.M.S. Smithson was taken on as a consultant and began thinking about the kind of sculpture necessary for an airport. First there could be ‘aerial art’ – large, flat, low lying works placed between the runways and building and visible from the air. Second, there were works inside the terminal but linked to the sites outside – these interior works were ‘non-sites’. Smithson’s proposals include Aerial Map – Proposal for Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport (1967), an obvious pre-cursor to Spiral Jetty. In June 1967 he published ‘Towards the Development of an Air Terminal Site’ in Artforum, but that same month funding for Smithson via T.A.M.S. from the airport board ceased and the project never came to fruition.

For his contribution, Robert Morris created a Model and Cross-Section for Project in Earth and Sod (1966). It is a neat, minimal elevated disk, depicting an outdoor sculpture which clearly pre-figures later Earthworks, although not the work pursued in the late sixties by Morris himself, like the pile of soil and industrial detritus made for the EARTH WORKS show two years later.

Carl Andre’s proposal was a crater 12 inches deep and 144 inches in diameter, created by an explosive charge ‘detonated by the sculptor, Carl Andre.’ Smithson published the proposal (with echoes of Vietnam and flower power) as: ‘A crater formed by a one-ton bomb dropped from 10,000 feet, or, An acre of bluebonnets (state flower of Texas)’.

Sol LeWitt proposed to Smithson a kind of anti-monument: ‘encase a six-inch wooden cube containing something in an eighteen inch cement cube and bury it someplace on The Tract. The precise spot would not be designated...’ There is some irony to this given the monumental scale of later Earthworks and the increasing importance of land art sites for cultural tourism. The airport lost its chance to host this early work by Sol LeWitt, but it naturally now has a public art programme, including a piece by LeWitt.

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