Earth art showcased in New Mexico

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In 1959, Walter de Maria envisioned tuxedoed men and bejeweled women watching “inexperienced people” dig a hole with a steam shovel on a vacant acre of land near an art-loving city while music played and parents screamed, “Get that bulldozer away from my child.”

This conception is often credited as the first land art proposal, and the tip of the iceberg of some of the most provocative — and monumental — art of its time. Fifty years later, the form has evolved into one with quieter, more ephemeral aspirations. Far from the macho, heroic projects that were the hallmark of the first generation of earth artists — some of whom, like Michael Heizer, have spent close to 40 years moving tons of dirt to create massive, remote sculptural environments — “leave no trace,” or at least, leave an ecologically enhancing trace, are the watchwords of many artists currently working in the field.

Not surprisingly, New Mexico, with its near mystical natural beauty and vast open spaces, has become a hub of activity. This summer and fall, visitors will get to survey a wide swathe of new work by this younger generation of artists, which has been brought together in “LAND/ART,” a festival of coordinated exhibitions, lectures, symposia, film screenings, blogs, public installations and site-specific sculptures organized by the 516 Arts gallery in Albuquerque. Suzanne Sbarge, director of 516 Arts and LAND/ART’s guiding light, says this is “the biggest arts collaboration” ever to occur in New Mexico.

Susan Emerling reports, in Sunday Arts & Books.