Sotheby's Museum Network

10 Earth Artists to Know

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty 1970

ROBERT SMITHSON, SPIRAL JETTY (1970). SITE SPECIFIC EARTH WORK; DIA ART FOUNDATION

On the occasion of international Earth Day – April 22 – we’re looking at how artists celebrate and connect with our planet. Here are 10 artists whose work deals with different aspects of earth and nature. From Joan Jonas’ latest installation on the Arctic and climate change at MoMA to Andy Goldsworthy’s decades-long practice of making art with found natural materials, artists draw inspiration from the environment and, in turn, help us better understand our delicate relationship to it.

ANA MENDIETA, UNTITLED FROM THE SILUETA SERIES, 1973-77, SILVER DYE-BLEACH PRINT, COLLECTION MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO, GIFT FROM THE HOWARD AND DONNA STONE COLLECTION, 2002.46.9, PHOTO: NATHAN KEAY, © MCA CHICAGO


Ana Mendieta

Widely recognized for her powerful earth-work series of Siluetas (silhouettes), Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta used the natural environment as a setting in which to express the body’s place within the world and its relationship to earth, nature and spirituality. Her work can be found in the collections of New York's MoMA, Denmark's Lousiana Museum of Modern Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum in D.C.

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE, SURROUNDED ISLANDS, BISCAYNE BAY, GREATER MIAMI, FLORIDA, 1980-83, PHOTO: WOLFGANG VOLZ, © 1983 CHRISTO


Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, two land artists who fell in love and later married while creating monumental site-specific art works together, were well known for their interventions in the natural world that altered the site’s organic characteristics in an effort to push the boundaries of what constitutes site-specific, large-scale installation art within the environment.

JOAN JONAS, REANIMATION II, 2010–2013, ON VIEW AT MoMA. COURTESY TAIPEI BIENNIAL.

Joan Jonas

The 82-year-old pioneer of performance and video art Joan Jonas has always been interested in evoking the fragility of nature in a rapidly changing environment. In Reanimation (2010/2012/2013), a video-sculpture installation currently on view at MoMA, Jonas mixes Arctic landscapes, folk tales, music and hanging glass in a mesmerizing installation occupying multiple galleries.

NANCY HOLT, SUN TUNNELS, 1973-76. GREAT BASIN DESERT, UTAH. © HOLT-SMITHSON FOUNDATION/LICENSED BY VAGA/NY. PHOTO: ZCZ FILMS/JAMES FOX. COURTESY HOLT-SMITHSON FOUNDATION

Nancy Holt

Nancy Holt was one of the first land artists to use outdoor art as a platform for environmental activism as opposed to something that could damage or compete with nature. With Sun Tunnels (1973-76), her most famous work, elements of nature combine with Holt's Minimalist-inspired tunnels to show how the changing conditions of weather and light can transform a work from one moment to the next. See more of her work at the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey.

ROBERT SMITHSON, SPIRAL JETTY, 1970. © HOLT-SMITHSON FOUNDATION/LICENSED BY VAGA, NEW YORK. PHOTO: GEORGE STEINMETZ. COURTESY DIA ART FOUNDATION, NEW YORK


Robert Smithson

Perhaps best known for one of the largest earth works in existence, Spiral Jetty (1970), Smithson is an earth artist of lasting influence on the history of 20th century art history. Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture composed of rocks in the colored waters of the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Here, Smithson (who married fellow artist Nancy Holt) was interested in reconnecting with the environment and using artistic practice to study geology and mineralogy.

WHEATFIELD WITH AGNES DENES STANDING IN THE FIELD WHEATFIELD - A CONFRONTATION: BATTERY PARK LANDFILL, DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN © 1982 AGNES DENES

Agnes Denes

Hungarian-born artist Agnes Denes’ environmental installations of Wheatfields symbolize a universal concept that refers to food, energy, commerce, economics, mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns, calling attention to our misplaced priorities and questioning our human values in relation to the future of humanity.

ANDY GOLDSWORTHY, STRIDING ARCH AT BENBRACK, PHOTO TAKEN ON AUGUST 24, 2016, FLICKR; MARK


Andy Goldsworthy

British artist Andy Goldsworthy’s outdoor sculptures were created on site and out-of-doors, in areas where he found a range of natural materials - from snow, ice, and boulders to leaves, twigs and mud - which he then used to build art works which were often short-lived, subject to the whims of the environment they occupied. In this way, Goldsworthy deliberately explored the ephemerality that the natural world brings to man-made creations.

YOKO ONO, EARTH PIECE: LISTEN TO THE SOUND OF THE EARTH TURNING, 1963/1999

Yoko Ono

"Listen to the sound of the earth turning." With this instructional poem from her book Grapefruit (1964), artist Yoko Ono expresses the very power of possibility and enactment, suggesting the viewer become attuned to the earth and its movement.

MATHILDE ROUSSEL, LIVES OF GRASS, SOIL, WHEAT SEEDS, STRUCTURE FROM RECYCLED METAL, FABRIC, 2010-2012.

PHOTO: MATTHIEU RAFFARD


Mathilde Roussel

Made of recycled materials and fabric filled with soil and wheat grass seeds, French artist Mathilde Roussel’s living grass installations of human beings serve as a metaphor for our bodies’ transformations over time as well as a reminder that we are one with nature.

OLAFUR ELIASSON, ICE WATCH, 2014, PLACE DU PANTHÉON, PARIS, 2015, PHOTO: MARTIN ARGYROGLO

Olafur Eliasson

To confront climate change and bring awareness to the alarming state of the planet’s current conditions, Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson put melting icebergs in front of the Panthéon in Paris in his 2015 art installation entitled Ice Watch.

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