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"en pleine terre: Wandering between Landscape and Art, Spiral Jetty and Potsdamer Schrebergaerten"
2001-08-16 until 2001-11-18
Museum of Contemporary Art
Basel, , CH Switzerland

Spiral Jetty, laid out by Robert Smithson in 1970 in Utah's Great Salt Lake has become an icon of Amer-ican Land Art of the sixties and seventies. Walter de Maria and Michael Heizer are other exponents of the first generation of artists who wanted to overcome the confines of the exhibition space. They worked en pleine terre, on land previously untouched by human hand, as documented by Gerry Schum's Land Art Television Gallery. The Earth Works these artists created were left largely to the inroads of natural decay. Heizer's Double Negative of 1969/70 - two juxtaposed incisions carved out of a steep mesa in Nevada – is subject to erosion, the sharp edges of the trench now blurred by falling debris. In contrast Walter de Maria's Lightning Field, created in 1977 out of 400 stainless steel rods, can still be seen in the desert of New Mexico, where it continues to attract the grandiose natural drama of lightning.

Photographs and a film on the making of the Spiral Jetty, conceived with great care by Robert Smith-son, testify to the realisation of a mind-boggling spiral of stones laid out in the salt lake, which the artist saw as the expression of the irrational, a world that can't be described in numerical or rational terms. This vast and transitory utopia has joined forces in this exhibition with a slightly eccentric antipode: the Potsdamer Schrebergärten. The ordered idyll of these garden allotments caught the eye of Stan Douglas, who shot a photographic series of them in 1994. Looked upon with a slightly jaundiced eye due to the repressive educational methods of their 19th century inventor, Mr Schreber, they are now surrounded by abandoned industrial buildings and the harbingers of metropolitan Berlin. Jean-Frédéric Schnyder's high-way vedutes, painted in oils from bridges crossing Switzerland's motorways in 1992, are at a substantial remove from Arcadia. Painted through the four seasons, these arteries of traffic cutting across the land-scape may be read as signs of the times.

Viewers are invited to stroll through the exhibition and give free rein to their own associations, con-jured by the immeasurable wealth of relations between nature and culture. However, they will not be able to lean on the walking stick of chronological or typological order among the works ranging between 1968 and the year 2001. Exhibition opener is a series of triptychs in oils by Gilbert and George from 1971: The Paintings (with Us in the Nature), in which the two declared non-painters elegiacally array themselves as Living Sculptures in the rich green of a domesticated countryside. Further on, visitors encounter Paul Morrison's silhouette-like murals whose plein-air ambience breaks entirely with the direct study of nature, turning instead to the simulated world of Disney comics and illustration.

As demonstrated by Markus Raetz, looking at landscape always generates images, and not only in the context of art. When this perception coalesces into an artefact as in the jungle photographs, Paradise, made by Thomas Struth in 1998, something abstract results – although the artist has penetrated the exotic territory of rampant growth – and their reflective detachment plays on the untouched purity of paradise.

The act of going out into the world of nature, of placing signs and actively participating in ways ranging from outright conquest to modest restraint, characterises the walks and – indirectly – the sculptural arrange-ments of Richard Long. This approach is no longer brought to bear in more recent reflections on nature, whether expressed in analogies between the sweep of the brush and the sweep of the landscape (Michael van Ofen), whether examining or artificially creating phenomenological laws of nature, specifically geo-logical ones (Olafur Eliasson), casting a spell on the landscape (Annelies _trba), or recording its sparse remains in the wake of unchecked development (Jean-Marc Bustamante). The uncivilised fact of nature can no doubt be studied, registered, varied, interpreted and even simulated, but it is hardly likely anymore to become an emphatic locus of projection.

IMAGE:
Jean-Marc Bustamante,
Tableau no. 69B, 1982,
private ownership Zürich


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