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  • Writer's picturePritika Chowdhry

Five Pioneering Site-Specific Artists you should know

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

The term "site-specific art" was promoted and refined by Californian artist Robert Irwin but it was actually first used in the mid-1970s by young sculptors, such as Patricia Johanson, Dennis Oppenheim, and Athena Tacha, who had started executing public commissions for large urban sites.

Site-specific environmental art was first described as a movement by -

Catherine Howett

Architectural critic (“New Directions in Environmental Art,” Landscape Architecture, Jan. 1977)

Lucy Lippard

Art critic (“Art Outdoors, In and Out of the Public Domain,” Studio International, March-April 1977).

Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson's earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) needs no introduction. It is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water.

BREAKING GROUND: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971–2011)

Bingham Copper Mining Pit – Utah Reclamation Project, 1973

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy is an English sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who produces site-specific sculptures and land art situated in natural and urban settings.

Patricia Johanson

“For over forty years, Patricia Johanson has patiently insisted that art can heal the earth. Her designs satisfy deep human needs for beauty, belonging, and historical memory, while also answering the needs of birds, insects, fish, animals, and micro-organisms. Her art reclaims degraded ecologies and creates conditions that permit endangered species to thrive in the middle of urban centers.” — Caffyn Kelley, Preface to Art and Survival

Fair Park Lagoon, Dallas, Texas

Candlestick Park Endangered Garden, San Francisco, California

Ulsan Dragon Park, Korea

Art and Survival: Patricia Johanson’s Environmental Projects by Caffyn Kelley

“Artist Patricia Johanson is one of the creative angels of these dark times, and Caffyn Kelley's vivid text carries the message. Johanson designed expanded site-works for congested waterfronts, endangered forests, and urban wastelands. Each of her visionary ground plans is a saving grace for our earth-damaging culture. Here indeed is art for survival. Read this wonderful book!” - Eleanor Munro, author of Originals: American Women Artists

Dennis Oppenheim

Dennis Oppenheim pushed boundaries of art through earthworks, installation, sculpture, and public sculpture. Some of his early works are -

Annual Rings, 1968

U.S.A./Canada boundary at Fort Kent, Maine and Clair, New Brunswick. 150 x 200

Schemata of annual rings severed by political boundary.Time: U.S.A. 1:30 pm Time: Canada 2:30 pm

Dead Furrow, 1967-2016.

Painted wood, pipe. 10 X 40 X 35

Directed Seeding/Cancelled Crop. 1969

"The route from Finsterwolde (location of wheat field) to Nieuwe Scans (location of storage silo) was reduced by a factor of 6 X and plotted on a 154 X 267 meter field. The field was then seeded following this line. In September the field was harvested in the form of an X. The grain was isolated in it’s raw state".

Athena Tacha

One of the first artists to develop environmental site-specific sculpture in the early 1970s, Tacha has won over fifty competitions for permanent public art commissions, of which nearly forty have been executed throughout the U.S.

Green Acres (1985-87)

3 x 77 x 85 ft., with sandblasted photos of N.J. endangered nature, Dept. of Environmental Protection courtyard, Trenton (N.J. Council on the Arts, 1% for Art).

Corral (1987-90)

Animal Science Building, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Sandblasted photographs on black slate, ca. 4 x 64 x 80 ft.

Labyrinthos (2011-12)

Mixed media, 7 x 26.5 x 30 in., proposed to be built as a temporary sculpture with granite blocks and bamboo around the pond at Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey.


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