Land Art was an attempt to break out of the gallery and engage directly with the landscape, creating work that couldn’t be bought, sold or commodified. It was as American as a military-industrial apple pie: a bastardised frontier mentality mixed up with a lot of we’re-as-smart-as-the-Europeans theorising, plus endless opportunities to wear Levi’s, drive diggers and do a lot of dude boozing. Chuck in the Vietnam War and you’ve got a full house of ’60s-’70s US cultural anxieties.
Anyway, that’s the picture painted by this doc about a lot of blokes who didn’t paint pictures. The artworks, gouged out of remote canyons, or erected in the desert miles from anywhere, intentionally made both artist and audience an afterthought: in 10,000 years’ time, who would care who made them or why? For a documentary, though, that poses a problem. Those involved seem literally dwarfed by their works, ambitious and desperate to leave their mark. It doesn’t help that the movement’s poster boy, Robert Smithson, whose ‘Spiral Jetty’ is Land Art’s definitive moment, died while working in 1973. The art is undeniably impressive, but there’s a lot of I-did-this-before-him-without-her-help, which drags. Still, look at that: it’s massive!