In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a group of New York artists brought this tradition into the 20th Century, incorporating sculptures into the very terrain of the American Southwest’s deserts.
These ‘earthworks’ ranged from mirrors balanced on piles of rubble to arrangements of huge concrete pipes, and Troublemakers gives a convincing account of why these outdoor monuments started to proliferate. Artists were reacting to the very first photos of the entire Earth, as taken from space, as well as to the dramatic scarring of its surface by the Vietnam War.
When leather-clad artists tore up the ground with motorbikes, leaving swooping marks on the desert floor, their enormous al fresco doodles were a response to a new conception of how the world could be seen and altered.
They also looked very cool doing it, and director James Crump deliberately evokes this sense of ‘Easy Rider’ rebellion so often associated with the era. The artists were ‘troublemakers’, Crump argues, because of their disruptive attempt to transcend gallery spaces and the traditional commercial art market. The film does what it can to glamorize this. It’s helped by the fact that the artists were themselves self-glamourizing.
The most blatant culprits were Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson. The former was a Hunter S. Thompson-type figure, complete with revolver, aviator shades, and dangling cigarette. The latter resembled a black-clad rockstar, described by those who knew him as ‘satanic’, ‘insane’, and connected to the ‘dark forces’.
Heizer and Smithson, among others, were important figures from a fascinating time in art history. But Troublemakers risks slightly belittling them, focusing on the pettier aspects of the business of making art. Crump’s film depicts many of them as insecure men who feared obscurity, who were in competition for the patronage of rich heiresses, and whose work was partly motivated by a need to do it before someone else did.
It’s always a pleasure, then, when Troublemakers leaves the gossipy NY bars for the uninhabited desert and the works that came to be part of that environment.
Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, where bacteria turns the water blood red, gets some wonderful aerial shots, and when the camera dips right into Heizer’s Double Negative (an immense trench cut into the precipitous edge of a desert mesa) the experience is suitably immersive and awe-inspiring.
If Troublemakers had included more footage like this, it might have made it clearer what was so significant about land art.
|What||Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
13 May 16 – 01 Jul 16, Event times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's website|