10 Female Land Artists You Should Know

Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Jan 11, 2019 7:40PM

Artsy Editors · Jul 18, 2017 12:39 pm

Fleeing the confines of studios, galleries, and museums, the Land Artists of the 1960s and ’70s turned the earth’s surface into their canvas. Suddenly, art could be dirt, stone, sand, and sky. It could vanish in the wind or permanently alter a landscape. It didn’t need to be bought or sold.(Using the organic world as an artistic medium was nothing out of the ordinary to many non-Western cultures, of course—think of the geoglyphs in the Nazca desert, or “Nazca Lines,” in Peru—but within the context of Western art, it was groundbreaking.)While the definition of Western art expanded in this era, the image of the artist narrowed. The Land Artist was seen as a rugged cowboy, colonizing the American West with bulldozers, guns, and cranes. The Land Artist was also quintessentially male. Yet, in practice, this was far from the case. Dozens of female creatives pioneered this movement alongside their male counterparts.And financial support came from women, too. Earthworks were often expensive to make, and required patronage—which many Land Artists found in gallerist Virginia Dwan. Dwan funded Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (1977), and Charles Ross’s Star Axis (1971–76), but she underwrote few projects by women. “Virginia Dwan was the head of a very exclusive boys’ club,” explained the feminist artist Judith Bernstein. “Few women were allowed to enter.”Recent scholarship, as well as pivotal exhibitions at New York’s SculptureCenter and Brooklyn Museum, have helped to correct this bias, highlighting the women artists who were instrumental in the development of this art form. What follows is a rundown of 10 female Land Artists you should know—though there were many more.

Beverly Pepper

Though born in Brooklyn, Pepper has spent most of her career living and working in central Italy, an environment that has shaped much of her practice. “I want to get people out of buildings,” Pepper explains, “and into places where they can meet—an idea I got from all the outdoor cafes in Rome.” Pepper taught herself to weld by working in American factories in the ’60s, where she was often the only woman. (The artist joked about having to use the men’s restroom, as the factories were not equipped for female employees.)While Pepper is best known for her curving, Corten steel sculptures, her impressive output of land art is often overlooked. Throughout the ’70s, Pepper experimented with what she called “Earthbound Sculptures,” creating colossal structures that rose out of the earth’s surface. Turning public spaces into dynamic meeting places, Pepper also designed a series of “earthbound” amphitheaters, such as her Amphisculpture (1974–75) at the AT&T Network Operations Center in New Jersey and Cromlech Glen (1985) at Laumeier Sculpture Park in Missouri.Most recently, Pepper cut into the ground of Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler’s Westchester home, creating a grass and granite amphitheater that blends into their backyard landscape.

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Kayne Griffin Corcoran