Thursday, January 7, 2016

TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART -- James Crump's quick-and-surface overview

James Crump's new documentary (he's the fellow who earlier gave us Black and White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe), titled TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART, is a fast and not-at-all furious trip through the sub-genre known as land art (sometimes referred to as earth art or earth works: do view the wonderful movie EarthWork, if you haven't already). For anyone unfamiliar with the idea or execution of land art, the film proves a pretty good introduction.

If you already know some things about this subject, and/or some of the artists who've produced it, Mr. Crump's (the filmmaker is shown at right) little race through the history of it all may seem -- even at only 72 minutes -- a bit repetitive and disorganized. What we do get that's enjoyable and necessary, are some nice views of some of the landmarks of the genre: "pieces" (that's not quite the right word for some-thing that's often this mammoth) by leaders in the field.

These would include the likes of Michael Heizer (whose work, Circular Surface, appears below and at bottom), Walter De Maria (whose Desert Cross is shown two photos below), Nancy Holt, (whose work, Sun Tunnels, graces the penultimate photo), Lawrence Weiner, and a few others (that's Charles Ross, constructing his Star Axis, above) -- whose work we see in all its odd and enormous glory. Much of this is impressive, in a kind of  "Why-would-they-do-that?" way, while the answer to the why ranges from a proclivity toward "troublemaking" to the need to get out of "the gallery" and make pieces that were simply too huge to be "owned" in any conventional sense.

Here, land becomes both the subject and the material for the art -- which proves a combination of "'information, technology and nature," as one of the movie's many speakers puts it at one point. The documentary is certainly information-packed with people, art, history, and even a few ideas. And its visuals are often quite stunning.

We learn about the contributions of 3M heiress Virginia Dwan, a bit about the magazine Avalanche (around which I suspect an entire movie might be made), and see certain of the works in an up-close-and-impersonal manner. But there does not seem to be any real organization here. Instead it's more a flow of names and places and people and artwork -- much of which may bring to mind Shelley's poem Ozymandias and the thought that even art this monumental must indeed fade (an idea that it appears some of these artists understand all too well themselves).

Does Troublemakers make the case for the importance of land art and its artists? Only marginally. But if you are intrigued by all this and want to learn more, I suggest viewing Doug Pray's interesting doc about one of Heizer's more famous works, Levitated Mass, or the aforementioned EarthWork. (There are probably more docs out there on this subject of which I'm unaware.) In any case, Mr. Crump's piece at least provides a quick survey/history of the genre.

From First Run Features, the documentary, which had its American debut at last year's New York Film Festival and has played various U.S. cities since then, opens this Friday, January 8, in New York City (at the IFC Center), in San Diego (at the Digital Gym Cinema), and in Seattle (at the Northwest Film Forum). For all other currently scheduled playdates around the country, click here. (That's Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, above and on the poster, top.)

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