The Richard Long Exhibition Supporters Group and The Henry Moore Foundation presents
Richard Long: Heaven and Earth
Dusty Boots Line - The Sahara 1988– Richard Long
Copyright the artist
3 June – 6 September 2009
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
To the uninformed eye, it might seem as though Richard Long’s main occupation, artistic or otherwise, is walking. The eye, even when artistically informed, might discern that assumption to be primarily correct. Long emerged as an artist near the end of Andy Warhol’s hey-day in the late ‘60’s just prior to American land artist Robert Smithson’s creation of his mammoth ‘Earthwork,’ Spiral Jetty (1970). Smithson, who had himself emerged as one of the proponents of the minimalist movement in 1964, had, however, been expressing his artistic tendencies through nature related photography and sculptures for some years before that time. Long’s art, for all intents and purposes, borrows aspects of both of those artists’ genres, utilising the art-speak inherent to conceptual art and the terrain aesthetics embraced by artists like Smithson whose groundbreaking approach would, inadvertently offer impetus for Long and his contemporary, Andy Goldsworthy. However, while Goldsworthy continually seeks to highlight the transitory nature of his materials and the artworks he creates from them, Long chooses to skim over the top of that theory, settling, as it were, for a much more surface interpretation based on his physical experiences of the tangible. Having said that however, it must be added here that Long himself waxes lyrical on relation to the nature of his walks when he makes reference to the ‘cultural history’ of walking, specifically in reference to ‘Pilgrims...wandering Japanese poets, the English Romantics and contemporary long-distance walkers.’
If one finds Long’s art a moving experience, it may be simply because movement and the resulting patterns it creates is by and large, his art form. He has been walking for art’s sake since the late ‘60’s and like his colleague, Goldsworthy, he has been recording his mark-making path every step of the way. Long, who hails from Bristol and lives and works in Dartmoor, has walked throughout the U.K. extensively, and also in the Swiss Alps, the Sahara, the United States and in, and at times, across a multitude of other countries and/or terrains. This retrospective exhibition covers his artistic endeavours from 1969 to the present day, (though earlier works are referenced) and it is the first major show of his work staged in London for eighteen years, the initial and last being Richard Long: Walking in Circles at the Hayward Gallery in 1991.
The exhibition opens with a splash, literally, in the form of Long’s two huge ‘mud’ paintings especially created on the gallery walls for this exhibition. The pair, aptly entitled, Heaven and Earth cover two of the large walls at opposite ends of an entire room in the gallery, and show evidence of streaking, dripping and plopping of material a.k.a. mud, which Long would no doubt have worked with his bare hands. By his own admission, water is an important part of his art, and mud seems to be right up his symbolic alley so to speak, as beside the works one reads of mark-makers who have come before Long, in particular, ancient cave painters, though this work looks decidedly more impromptu than the instinctual, often sacred, symbolic art it makes reference to.
Moving through the exhibition one notes many photos, often in black and white, of marks generated by Long’s lengthily walks through various terrains. A lone black and white photo constitutes not only the lone proof of Long’s first pedestrian venture for art’s sake in 1967, but also, the necessary proof of his aligned foot-prints today. Over forty years ago Long became intrigued with the concept of drawing a straight line on a map and then actually walking that line, documenting it with a photo as the final act of his artwork.
There are also many text works in the gallery, most of them blown up to fill large spaces, though the original works are probably more of a normal page-size. Long’s approach to what he’s seen and experienced on his walks is neither particularly poetic or romantic, but rather, clinically rhythmic, as though he is singularly unimpressed by what he has just experienced, but rather, simply making note of it. In a way, his notations, stating the distances walked each day or the appearance of a fence or rock he has encountered in sequence along the way, hearken back to the Victorian age of classification, though in reality, they are pure conceptualism. Yet Long is an artist who professes to have a strong kinship with nature and seems, when he talks about his work in the videos provided in the gallery (especially commissioned by Channel Four) to be a son of the soil, at least in his own eyes. Just what sort of son of the soil he is may be Greek to many viewers however, for as terrain and nature based as Long’s work is, it never manages to re-create any feeling of the great outdoors, despite the huge expanses he typically treks across, nor inspire the desire to indulge in any sort of nature related activities for oneself. However, this distancing is by all intents and purposes, intentional, almost as though once Long’s walks, and/or great stone (or other natural material) circles, (several of which are showcased in one room of this exhibition), have been created they are relinquished, back to their origins, almost as though the artist has disowned them. Or perhaps, they are merely left for nature to reclaim.
By his own admission, Long makes no attempt to romanticise nature in any way, nor does he see fit to alter it in any permanent manner, preferring instead to use found natural material to create crude shapes, predominantly circles, which are then left for nature to break apart. This theoretical nonchalance may be one reason why those viewing this exhibition, especially those living in crowded inner cities, longing for great open spaces may find themselves feeling somewhat puzzled by the end of their walk through it.
Just what is the viewer’s place in Long’s work, in particular, his walks? My guess is that in the true spirit of conceptual ambivalence, we may never know.
A Line Made by Walking (1967) – Richard Long
Copyright the artist
Level 2 Galleries
Admission £9.80 (£7.80 concessions)
Open daily 10:00 – 17:50 and until 22:00 on the first Friday of every month
Tickets: www.tate.org.uk/tickets or call 020 7887 8888
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