Monday, August 16, 2010

Jen Graves: "When Art Becomes a Dog Park"

Jen Graves's article in the Stranger discusses the changing nature of Robert Morris's Untitled (Reclamation Project). This earthwork has always had a special place in my heart since Nancy and I first visited it in 2007 and decided we would travel to as many earthworks as we could the following summer.

Some highlights from the article:

"The artist's defiant words are etched into the informational plaque at the entrance to Johnson Pit #30; the plaque also describes the site as "remote" and "contemplative." That was true in 1979. But Johnson Pit #30 now sits awkwardly between teeming, winding colonies of townhomes, all built within the last 10 years (some within the last three years, still containing their pioneer residents) and bearing names that refer to the river valley below and its mountain views: The Heights at Ridgeview, Creekside New Homes, Valley View Condominiums, River Ridge Community, Viewcrest Condos. "Total Privacy in Every Room!" is the advertisement for one unit for sale for $229,000. Seen from the top of the pit, these tightly ordered, monochromatic complexes—each with a row of flags at its entrance, like a little nation—look like toy neighborhoods. In the distance, past all the gleaming new pavement, there's one lone red barn left."

"Interviews with a dozen of Johnson Pit #30's neighbors who answered their doors or were caught walking to and from their cars revealed that the art is used mainly as a dog park and outdoor gym. Some owners park cars at the top and stay inside while releasing their dogs down into the pit to tire themselves out; the paths of the hilly slopes are perfect for workouts. The goats who come to clean up the blackberry brambles every year—brought in by the county arts agency that still owns and maintains the sculpture, 4Culture—make the biggest impression, not the sculpture itself, whose form is seen as either pleasant or odd or overlooked entirely. Few people had noticed the rows of tree stumps, and nobody knew what they were supposed to mean; nobody had read Morris's fighting words on the plaque."

In many ways Graves's experience with Morris's work echoes what I witnessed at Robert Smithson's Spiral Hill and Broken Circle: an audience that interacted with the artwork on another level discounting the artist's original intentions. That is one of the things that most interests me about these earthworks - the sociological context they now reside in. It brings a brand new meaning to audience participation most heavily influenced by the element of passing time.

Here is Morris's work photographed in 1979:

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