Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Disciplined debates

  • Comment
Art and Architecture Chinati Foundation, 2000. US$15 Art in the Landscape Chinati Foundation, 2000. US$12 (Available from tel 001 915 729 4362, fax 001 915 729 4597)

'Artists shouldn't do architecture and architects shouldn't do art, ' begins Jacques Herzog's contribution to an intriguing debate on art and architecture, held in 1998.

Nowadays, with the traditional links between art and architecture (the one subservient to the other) all but dissolved, it is not surprising that such a discussion sways between attitudes of mutual respect and fascination, provocation and outright suspicion.

This symposium took place in Marfa, Texas, organised by the Chinati Foundation, whose creator, the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, moved there in 1972 to set up a private museum in a deserted US army base.

Although he died in 1994 his project at Marfa continues. Important works are sited there in the restored buildings and surrounding stark landscape, by Judd himself, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Roni Horn and Richard Long (AJ 2.10.97).

Judd acted both as artist and as architect, to exercise the control over the relationship between art and its surroundings which he saw to be so crucial. Art and Architecture and Art in the Landscape record the papers given at two high-profile symposia in which eminent artists, architects and critics continue to debate issues which concerned Judd.

How do artists and architects interact?

The texts address the question variously, in philosophical and in practical terms. True collaborations are rare - most confrontations are brought about by artists working on existing architectural sites, or by architects designing to house art, such as Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Modern and Frank Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao. ('Don Judd hated my work, ' begins the text of Frank Gehry's address. ) Judd saw recent architecture as a slave of commerce, and art's job as that of critiquing it - a common stance among contemporary artists. Art historian James Ackerman tells the saga of Richard Serra's vast sculpture, Tilted Arc, which failed to defer to the site in Federal Plaza, New York, for which it was commissioned, and which was vandalized, and finally removed.

The artist Robert Irwin's account here of his own famously adversarial 'collaboration' with Richard Meier (in creating the public garden below the new Getty Museum) bears this out too, as do the careers of Oldenburg and van Bruggen, who have spent a quarter of a century creating 'obstacles' for architecture in public sites.

And yet, as Oldenburg says, what is important is not the antagonism between art and architecture, but the interchange: the similarities as well as the real differences.

Much interesting discussion hinges on the distinction between monumental and public sculpture (art which does not celebrate anything) and the broader question of the nature of public art itself, which is also addressed in Art in the Landscape - a subject as expansive as the Texas plains.

Indeed 'Land Art', as the critic and writer Lucy Lippard says in her excellent opening text, is still identified with the American West, which offers 'vast spaces, inexpensive real estate, and the illusion of wilderness.' Contributors set contemporary attitudes to art in the landscape in fascinating contexts, whether the ancient or recent history of art (from Stonehenge to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty), or the story of garden making in the eighteenth century and its links to the rise of natural religion and Rousseau's belief in the spiritual and moral sustenance of nature. There are arguments about the environmental effect of large works, public access, art's use of the landscape as neutral space or as specific, 'cultured' place.

The art considered here in all its aesthetic, practical, ethical and environmental dimensions varies widely: while James Turrell sculpts the cavities of Roden Crater in Arizona to create light effects to 'rival the sunset', the British artist Hamish Fulton walks the landscape leaving no trace: he takes back only words and photographs to show on the gallery walls. 'Most art on the land is taking modernism out of the gallery and putting it in the landscape, ' says the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, 'but my art is just the opposite.'

It has often been noted that minimalist art and sculpture since the 1960s has demanded the special conditions of the gallery's white cube, an unchanging, neutral space. But this orthodox view is questioned, shrewdly, by Michael Benedikt in the Art and Architecture volume, when he considers Judd's decision to remove himself and his work to the Texan plains in 1972: 'I think Judd sensed that he needed to get to Marfa. He knew that for his minimalist pieces to work, they really had to be in a maximalist environment.He needed natural and changing light, greenery, old concrete, old buildings.'

The final word goes to Carl Andre again, with his intriguing line: 'For a long time I have deeply held the belief that all art is a branch of agriculture.'

Martin Caiger-Smith is head of exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs