Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: James Crump
Writer: James Crump
Stars: Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Germano Celant
James Crump is an art curator and historian with an impressive list of publications to his name. In more recent times he has included film making in his activities and in 2007 directed “Black White and Gray: a portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe”. He goes a step further in Troublemakers which he has written, directed and produced. The artists whom he depicts are Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria and Michael Heizer who came to prominence at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies. They had no empathy with the world of commercial galleries. They eschewed the galleries. They instead chose to make their work on a large scale in the remote, uninhabited vast spaces of desert in New Mexico, Utah and Nevada or the like. They are places which are not easy to visit. The three most famous works are “Spiral Jetty” by Smithson, “The Lightning Field” by de Maria and “Double Negative” by Heizer.
The film is primarily about these three works and the forces which drove the three artists to create them. They were reacting against the restrictive, inward looking art world of their time. That time was dominated in the United States by the Vietnam War and the Cold War. In addition NASA had produced the first photograph of Earth which as a result had become an object. Their work was out in the open, admittedly in remote places, but anyone could encounter it. Each work was not in any way protected; each was open to the forces of nature and would inevitably be altered, for better for worse, by those forces. Crump uses contemporaneous film footage from the time and a series of current interviews with the likes of Carl Andre of the Tate “Bricks” fame to illustrate how important these artists were and remain. Wearing his art historian hat he intriguingly places their work as having descended from the pyramids of the Pharoahs.
Crump brings these so called “troublemakers” to life and manages to describe convincingly the circumstances which drove them to take such a radical approach to the creation of art. Crump is a fine advocate for the importance of their work and this film is certainly worth seeing for anyone who wishes to be aware of this substantial tributary to the ever changing current of what is contemporary art.
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