Gianfranco Gorgoni, a photographer whose oeuvre includes some of the best-known images of land art masterpieces from the 1970s onwards, has died at age 77. His New York dealer, Jim Kempner, confirmed the news of his death earlier this month.
“His photographic contribution to the historical record of the art world, particularly the first Earthworks and his incredible portraits of artists from the 1970s onward will live on as will his brave, tireless spirit,” Kempner said.
Born in Rome on Christmas Eve, 1941, Gorgoni came to the United States by boat in 1968 and eventually settled in New York City, where he gravitated toward the avant-garde art scene thriving in Lower Manhattan. He got to know the community’s major figures, including Carl Andre and Robert Smithson. The influential dealer Leo Castelli helped fund Gorgoni’s travels, allowing him to capture many of the most famous artists of his time at work. Some of those images—including photos of Walter De Maria, Bruce Nauman, and Joseph Beuys—were featured in the 1972 book The New Avant-Garde: Issues for the Art of the Seventies.
In an interview last year with Artsy’s Alina Cohen, Gorgoni recalled how he came to make some of the most recognizable images of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970). He said of Smithson:
He was living on Greenwich Street downtown near the meat market. [. . .] For the first time I saw some of his work with the sand, broken glass. Everything was so new. He said that he was preparing his big piece in Utah.
Later in the 1970s, Gorgoni extensively documented Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s massive project in the Bay Area, Running Fence (1972–76), from its planning process to its execution. He also made playful portraits of artists including Keith Haring, Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Ellsworth Kelly. He continued to capture major outdoor art projects in the ensuing decades, including Ugo Rondinone’s installation outside Las Vegas, Seven Magic Mountains (2016).
Gorgoni’s photographs of land art will be the subject of a major solo exhibition slated to open in October 2020 at the Nevada Museum of Art. In 2016, the museum’s Center for Art + Environment acquired the photographer’s archive, which includes more than 2,000 documentary images of land art.
Last year, the center’s director, William Fox, told Artsy:
Land art is one of those key movements that feeds into our understanding of human creative interactions with natural environments. [. . .] Most people will not see these projects in person, or they’re projects which have disappeared. [. . .] Gianfranco had been in the thick of that in the early days.