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Investigations: The Expanded Field of Writing in the Works of Robert Morris

 | 
Katia Schneller
, 
Noura Wedell

I. Embedded Writing

The Time of the Earthworks

Gilles A. Tiberghien

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Paul Veyne, Comment on écrit l’histoire: essai d’épistémologie (Paris: Seuil, 1971), trans. Mi (...)

1Robert Morris’ artistic activity is tangential to a great part of the artistic production of the last forty years. His work can thus be identified with minimalist art as well as with informal art, body art or land art, to cite only a few of the most well-known forms of this production, and those forms that appeared during the first part of Morris’ career. His production is to some degree “imbricated” or “layered.” Different directions and styles coexist in his oeuvre so that one cannot think of these different moments as the clear beginning and ending of a period. Rather, in order to build these problematic groupings that Art History refers to as artistic movements, it seems to me that we must rely upon the activation of what Paul Veyne has called “plots.”1

  • 2 See Jean-Pierre Criqui, “Note lacunaire sur Robert Morris et la question de l’écriture,” in Robert (...)

2Whenever he is associated with a particular artistic movement, Morris singularizes himself and is never where one expects him to be. This same artistic strategy is at work in the way he writes his texts. Working with natural materials, dirt, grease, manure, as he did in 1968 when he participated in the Earth Works exhibition at Dwan Gallery along with, among others, Robert Smithson, Michel Heizer, Dennis Oppenheim, and Walter de Maria, he situated himself within the register of a new genre. All the while he was simultaneously pursuing other kinds of works made of felt or mirrors. The texts that accompany this period, or the types of production that I will examine here, correspond generally to the theoretical genre of discourse, produced between 1966 and 1970, that Jean-Pierre Criqui considers to be in the service of “the registration of and dissemination of ideas”2 and which contain relatively little play with language as such, differing from the texts that will come later. These early texts set forth the bases of an aesthetic that borrows much from Gestalt Theory and from phenomenology. Although I might allude to these, I will situate myself, instead, in a slightly later moment, the one during which Morris reflected, either in interviews, or in articles and short texts, upon the outdoor productions that have connected him to earthworks.

  • 3 Robert Smithson, “Toward the Development of an Air Terminal Site,” Artforum, vol. 5, no. 10 (June (...)

3Robert Morris’ interest in this kind of production is longstanding. In 1966, he sparks a friendship with Robert Smithson and Nancy Hold and accompanies them to the Great Notch Quarry in New Jersey. The same year, he responds to Smithson’s proposal for an “Air Art” project following a request by the Tippets Abbett MacCarthy-Stratton agency, which was working on the construction of the Dallas-Fort Worth regional airport. His proposal, like that of Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, and Smithson himself, would never be undertaken, but a model remains, or at least a photograph of the model, which consists of a circle of earth and lawn, as can be seen in Smithson’s 1967 article “Toward the Development of an Air Terminal Site.”3

  • 4 Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture, Part 2,” 1966, pp. 20-23, reprinted in Robert Morris, Continuo (...)
  • 5 Ibid.

4It is easy to understand why creating a work visible from an airplane could have interested Morris, for he had been reflecting for years upon the scale of the sculptures that he had begun to produce at the beginning of the sixties and that would be qualified as minimalist by the middle of the decade. His “Notes on Sculpture II” addressed the issue of the relation of the object to the space surrounding it, and to the spectator, and asked the question, “Why not put the work outside and further change the terms?”4 A real need was felt to enter this new stage, he added, and installing sculptures in courtyards or in front of architecture was not sufficient. “Ideally,” he concluded, “it is a space without architecture as background and reference, which would give different terms to work with.”5

  • 6 Robert Morris, “Observations on the Observatory,” in Sonsbeek 1971, ex. cat. (Arnhem: Park Sonsbee (...)

5With Continuous Project Altered Daily (Fig. 7), a work in constant evolution, composed of dirt and rubbish, exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery from March 1st-22nd, 1966, and with his participation in the collective exhibition Earth Art at Cornell University’s White Museum, Morris confirmed his interest in process and in working with natural elements. That same year, he had a piece made for the exhibition organized by Harald Szeemann When Attitudes Become Form, which brought together a number of artists under the banner of “land art.” Morris was also present in the Sonsbeek 1971 exhibition. On that occasion, he built Observatory (Fig. 8), in Santpoort-Velsen, a project he had begun to sketch out in 1965, and that would be dismantled at the end of the exhibition. It consisted of a circular structure, totaling 71 meters in diameter, made of earth and wood with elements of granite and steel. Writing about the work, in a brief text entitled “Observations on the Observatory,” published in 1971 in the booklet that served as the exhibition catalogue, Morris was already attempting to distinguish his work from the earthworks: “Observatory is different from any art being made today. It has a different social intention and esthetic structure from other art being made at present. I have no term for the work. A kind of ‘para-architectural complex’ would be close but awkward.”6

8. Robert Morris, The Observatory, 1971-1977. Earth, water, wood, granite, steel, 298 feet 7 inches (91.01 m) diameter. Permanent site-specific earthwork in Oostelijk, Flevoland.

8. Robert Morris, The Observatory, 1971-1977. Earth, water, wood, granite, steel, 298 feet 7 inches (91.01 m) diameter. Permanent site-specific earthwork in Oostelijk, Flevoland.

Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

6The artist emphasized from the beginning that he did not intervene in inaccessible spaces; his work was made to be experimented by everybody. As for its aesthetic structure, it was inspired by ancient works and returned to a sensual exploration of space, allowing the viewer to experience, in a quasi-phenomenological way, the play of reversals between interior and exterior, the interior of one circle becoming the exterior of another.

  • 7 Ibid.
  • 8 Ibid.

7Morris sought to distinguish the Observatory “from other large scale outdoor work which exist as static, wholistic, monumental artifacts.”7 It is likely that he was alluding here to Smithson’s Spiral Jetty or Heizer’s Double Negative, neither of which were truly static in the sense that, following the example of the Observatory, both supposed that the viewer move upon or around them in order to truly apprehend them. And even if at first glance the Spiral could pass for “a whole form that can be taken in at a glance,”8 the dialectic between what it was not and what constituted it in return—photographs, drawings, texts or films—clearly manifested its internal dynamism.

  • 9 Ibid.

8Finally, the Observatory refered to other cultural traditions: “The overall experience of my work,” he explained, “derives more from Neolithic and Oriental architectural complexes. Enclosures, courts, ways, sightlines, varying grades, etc., assert that the work provides a physical experience for the mobile human body.”9 In 1977, a permanent reconstitution of the Observatory was made. The walls of the interior circle were built from a resistant tropical wood, and the work had now become larger, as the exterior circle’s diameter had stretched to 91.20 meters.

9Between February 7th and February 28th, 1970, at the Leo Castelli Gallery, Morris had exhibited a group of drawings under the title Earthworks Projects. One could see, among them, a certain number of sketches made in 1969 destined for the Jacques Cartier park in Ottawa. That year, the National Gallery of Canada had commissioned him to make a work for this park, but had ultimately retracted the offer. The hillocks, trenches, pools, alignments of stone, and plantations of trees visible on the different sketches, the manner in which they would be situated in space in relation to the position of the sun, manifested a genuine engagement with this type of landscape project.

  • 10 Robert Morris, “Robert Morris, a Keynote Address,” in Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, e (...)

10For a decade, Robert Morris maintained his interest in this type of work, all the while doing a great many other things. In 1974, in Belknap Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, he completed the project he had presented the previous year at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It was the first public commission of this type in the United States. And finally, in 1979, the King County Arts Commission launched a site rehabilitation program entitled Land Reclamation as Sculpture. Seven artists were invited to work on seven different sites, and to participate in a symposium. They included Herbert Bayer, Iain Baxter, Richard Fleischner, Lawrence Hanson, Mary Miss, Dennis Oppenheim, and Beverly Pepper. Morris was offered the rehabilitation of a gravel site in the county of Kent. He accepted, but his participation was subject to the obligation that he give a conference to be transcribed in the catalogue under the title “Robert Morris: A Keynote Address.”10 The text began not without frustration and a certain irony:

  • 11 Ibid., p. 11.

It has always seemed to me that when an artist is asked to speak about his work, that one of two assumptions is being made: one, that because he has made something, he has anything to say about it, or two, if he does, he would want to. Questionable assumptions, in my opinion. But in my case, I was not asked, I was told. It was part of my contract and I couldn’t get it changed. In any case one should not forget Claes Oldenberg’s remark that anyone who listens to an artist talk should have his eyes examined.11

  • 12 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, pp. 87-102, reprinted in Continuous P (...)

11This “Address,” as it is sometimes called, was republished under the title “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation” in the spring 1980 issue of the journal October.12 In the preface of his book, published by MIT Press in 1994, Morris indicates that it constitutes a revised text. In fact, it is a completely different text.

  • 13 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 11.

12In the “Keynote Address,” Morris began by asking himself “what is public art?” This question, he said, posed more questions than it brought answers. How should one classify works found neither in galleries nor in museums, large scale outdoor productions, often using earth as primary material and referring as much to landscape as to architecture, and which were called earthworks or siteworks: “It would not be accurate to designate privately funded early works of Smithson or Heizer or de Maria in remote parts of the desert as public art. The only public access to such works is photographic.”13 But Morris immediately added that many works of this kind later benefitted from public funding and became accessible to all, so much so that one could say that they did indeed belong to the public domain.

13The artist then undertook a sort of archeology of the genre, taking up Rosalind Krauss’s demonstration on Rodin and Brancusi, and leading up to minimal works by artists such as Andre, Judd, Smithson, Oppenheim, and Morris. This genealogy, Morris avowed, was a “narrative” that took these particular actors into account, although it might just as well have focused on others.

  • 14 George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (New Haven/London: Yale Univers (...)
  • 15 Robert Morris, “Keynote, Address,” p. 12.

14“To describe railroads accurately,” Kubler specified, trying to clarify what he meant about artist’s biographies, “we are obliged to disregard persons and states, for the railroads themselves are the elements of continuity, and not the travelers or the functionaries thereon.”14 Morris did just the same, declaring that one could just as well describe an interrupted chain “of burdensome marble, bronze and steel adorning architectural plazas, courtyards, sculpture gardens and fountains”15 linking Carpeaux to Oldenburg.

  • 16 Ibid.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 14.

15The difference, continued the artist, was that the question here was not one of ornamentation, since “in most cases [the work] has a dialectical relationship to the site it occupies.”16 One can nevertheless classify the different siteworks into two major categories. The first groups together “those who have chosen to work in inaccessible parts of the great Southwest to pursue various themes of Emersonian transcendentalism truly reminiscent of 19th Century attitudes, a kind of re-living of the pioneer spirit, of subduing the West in artistic terms.”17 These works were the products of obsessive individualists working with bulldozers toward the erection of “quasi-religious sites for medication.” No name was cited, but one thinks of course of Michael Heizer.

  • 18 Ibid.

16In the second category, one found “those working closer to urban sites and in less overwhelmingly romantic landscapes.” They have “produced work more often informed by social, economic, political, and historical awarenesses, as well as by concretely physical ones relevant to the site.”18 This time, there followed an enumeration of artists belonging to this group: Tractis, Mary Miss, Alice Aycock, Singer, Vito Acconci, Richard Fleichner, Robert Irwin, and Nancy Holt. Their works were less known and yet, according to Morris, they possessed a much stronger critical impact than those that were more “pastoral and remote.” These were also, in Morris’ eyes, public works in the literal, social, and aesthetic sense of the term.

17Having reached this point, I would like to point out three things. The first concerns the change of attitude, or point of view, between the two versions of the text on Land Reclamation Art. The second concerns the manner in which Morris distinguishes himself from a kind of production with which he partially identifies. The third examines his relation to time.

18Concerning the change between the two texts, in the version published in October, the proposal is clearly more oriented toward the ecological problems that arise from mining, in the perspective of land “rehabilitation” with the understanding that to reclaim land signifies to reappropriate a territory, to enhance it (by clearing, for example) or to rehabilitate or “requalify” it (by depolluting, another example.)

  • 19 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 212.
  • 20 Smithson had written to Ralph Hatch, president of Hanna Coal Company, proposing to intervene on th (...)

19In 1973, Morris recalled, the American Senate had proposed the following definition: “reclamation means the process of restoring a mined area affected by a mining operation to its original or other similarly appropriate condition, considering past and possible future uses of the area and the surrounding topography and taking into account environmental, economic and social conditions.”19 Now that same year, Smithson, with whom Morris was very close, had died in an airplane crash on the site of his last projected work, having tried for many years to interest mining companies in what some would later call Land Reclamation Art.20

20Morris then observed the diversity of situations and legislation in effect, despite a 1977 Senate directive that recommended the rehabilitation of sites within a legislative framework whose modalities of application were left up to the state. We have here clearly left the context of the discussion of public art that had opened the conference Morris presented to the symposium.

  • 21 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 219.
  • 22 Ibid., p. 220.

21Referring both to Galbraith and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Morris recalled that productivity signified the fragmentation of tasks, the decomposition of substances via chemical analysis of their elements in order to create synthetic products, whereas ecological thought fell within a fundamentally contrary vision, since “the very nature of the ecological concept is to consider any system as a whole.”21 This phenomenon of fragmentation, denounced here, is accompanied by the growing degradation of the environment and by a progressive and irreversible exhaustion of energy sources. An additional factor, among many others that might grow out of this phenomenon, was of course the “pollution of the earth.” But Morris added, far from any idealism, “This category is misleading insofar as it presumes a ‘clean’ world. This has naturally never existed and is moreover ecologically neither conceivable nor desirable.”22

  • 23 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 16.

22He then concluded this text with a strong detachment, almost cynicism, that he had not manifested in the “Keynote Address,” which ended with a warning against the good conscience that could animate such art given to returning a site to its “original state.” With this type of consideration, he added, one could understand that the mining industry might have fewer scruples in disturbing the landscape, knowing that an artist “(cheap, mind you)” was appointed “to transform the devastation into an inspiring and modern work of art.” And he thus insisted on the necessity of making moral as well as aesthetic choices that would not necessarily entail that the artists intervening in these operations “convert such sites into idyllic and reassuring places, thereby socially redeeming those who wasted the landscape in the first place.”23

  • 24 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 225.
  • 25 Ibid., p. 230. This would not prevent Morris from actively protesting the Vietnam War in the sixti (...)

23Nine years later, in the October text, reprinted in Continuous Projects Altered Daily in 1994, Morris seemed fairly disabused of a situation he did not wish to be fooled by. In 1994, he wrote, land rehabilitation was possible because money was easy to come by, since “the key that fits the lock to the bank is ‘land reclamation.’”24 One could think many things of this ménage à trois between art, the State, and industry; one could think in particular that this kind of art was servile and that the practice of it entailed a loss of liberty. But, Morris specified, “art has always served,” to differing degrees. It served the interest of the mining industry and its relation to the public but it did not serve the galleries, who played the game of the art market, any less. Morris was wary of a position of withdrawal, or of disengagement in art, as much as he was of the social engagement of artists, because, in one sense, “art is always propaganda—for someone” and, in another sense, “Artists who deeply believe in social causes most often make the worst art.”25

  • 26 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 230.

24“If the only rule is that art must use what uses it, then one should not be put off by the generally high level of idiocy, politics, and propaganda attached to public monuments—especially if one is in the business of erecting them.” And he imagined, in an “art fiction” scenario, that all mines under the sun would have the duty to welcome artists-in-residence for the purpose of that additional aesthetic touch: “There must be crews out there, straining and tense in the seats of their D-8 Caterpillars, waiting for that confident artist to stride over the ravaged ground and give the command, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines, and let us definitely conclude the twentieth century.’”26 This final irony on the social utility of artists and the redemptive role they could play in society marked a shift in tone, as if an earlier epoch had passed, and that the naïve attachment to certain convictions that could have been defended by Smithson just a few years earlier was no longer possible.

  • 27 Robert Morris, “Observations on the Observatory,” op. cit.

25If Morris can be historically associated with land art—he had participated in the most important manifestations through which it became known, toward the end of the sixties—he had also always upheld the specificity of his contribution, as indicated earlier. In the 1971 catalogue of the Sonsbeek exhibition, he declared bluntly: “Observatory has nothing in common with what is being done in art today. Observatory is different from any art being made today.”27 The first difference was, as we have seen, Morris’ desire to situate himself near urban zones, refusing to create earthworks in inaccessible spaces. The second difference was his relation to the landscape, which was present above all in the views, the spaces that were chosen for the gaze in these constructions, which Morris hesitated to refer to as “para-architectural complexes.” An artist like Michael Heizer was not at all concerned with the landscape; he has stated that what Smithson referred to as such only interested him under a degraded or entropic form.

  • 28 E. de Wilde, “Interview met Robert Morris,” in Het Observatorium van Robert Morris in Oostelijk Fl (...)
  • 29 Ibid.
  • 30 Nevertheless, and for other reasons that we should take the time to analyze, Morris will stigmatiz (...)

26In 1977, in an interview with E. de Wilde, on the subject of the reconstituted Observatory, Morris remarked that Asian and Islamic cultures, to which he had already referred in 1971 in his “Observations…,” privileged paths and spaces: “there are passages and then there are places where you stop, there are views and then there are interruptions. There is always a concern about the access and the view, rather than the object. That’s true of islamic mosque-architecture as well, and I feel much more related to that than to western traditions of buildings, objects to be looked at.”28 The third difference, according to Morris, was that, contrary to other creators of earthworks, what interested him was not “the shaping of the earth or the objects” and not “the idea of building an object, but of shaping space.” Without being architectural, the aim was akin to an architectural preoccupation. “[Observatory] lies in between sculpture and architecture […] so it’s about a place and about space.”29 In this case, and although he would refute it, he was perhaps not so different from someone like Michael Heizer.30

  • 31 On the question of temporality in the work of Morris, in particular through the dimensions of memo (...)

27To differing degrees, all of these works draw from Morris’ so-called minimalist period the desire to make the perception of the object and the one who perceives it coexist in space. Much more than the instantaneous apprehension of the object as expected by modernism, what was required here was a temporal experience.31

  • 32 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 13.

28This dimension had deeply preoccupied Morris since his earliest writings. In considering what space, scale, and time characterized these earthworks, he insisted in his inaugural conference at King County Museum upon the fact that “what may have been latent and unemphasized in interior work may come to the fore in an outside situation in quite different ways. Take the element of time, for example. It is not much emphasized in previous object sculpture. In fact, it was generally assumed not to be a formal parameter at all, as objects are pretty much apprehended all at once. But, as I indicated, as a space expanded in certain minimalist work, time began to emerge as a necessary condition under which the work is perceived. Complex and extended works which assumed the viewer’s presence from within, so to speak, locked time into space itself.”32

  • 33 Robert Morris, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated,” 1970, pp (...)

29In “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated”, published in 1970, Morris thought through certain identifications between the body and the object in usage in the 1960s, and commented on the phenomena of perception—which he had analyzed in his “Notes on Sculpture”—phenomena grounded in culture on the one hand, and linked to body weight, equilibrium and movement on the other. A certain tendency in Modern Art had attempted to uncover what this signified, he wrote in the same text, “and it has not achieved this through static images, but through the experiences of an interaction between the perceiving body and the world that fully admits that the terms of this interaction are temporal as well as spatial, that existence is a process, that the art itself is a form of behavior […].”33

30Here, we were still within a phenomenological register which Morris would subsequently abandon. Wittgenstein, Mitchell, Kripke, Goodman, Davidson, would soon become new conceptual resources. At which point, Morris’ interest in earthworks would cease. 1978 heralded the end of this period. The preceding year, in 1977, he had installed a piece made of granite stones and basalt at the sixth Documenta in Kassel and had not yet intervened in Seattle. Publishing “The Present Tense of Space” in volume 66 of Art in America, his stated intention in entering the game was to consider the relation to space in a certain type of work that had emerged in the seventies. That space was not merely physical, but also mental, and here Morris, leaving behind an understanding of consciousness in the phenomenological sense, opposed the operations of the “I” to those of the “me,” guided, this time, by the philosopher and sociologist Herbert Mead. The “I” corresponded to our present experience of time, whereas the “me” reconstituted it through memory thanks to words and images.

  • 34 George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, op. cit., pp. 25-26.

31Although this point would warrant a longer development, we can see that, regardless of the thinker to whom he referred, the relation to time was rethought by Morris in order to understand his spatial explorations. The narratives he tried to produce so as to grasp works through complex genealogies, which he retraced while reflecting upon their legitimacy, were likely the inheritance of Kubler’s reflections in The Shape of Time. I have already mentioned Kubler and certainly by design, since we know that Morris, although he would later distance himself from Kubler, had been deeply impressed by the book The Shape of Time, which had inspired him for his essay on Brancusi, and which he often cites in his texts. Indeed, Kubler noted a mutual incomprehension among historians and artists: “the unprepared historian regards progressive contemporary painting as a terrifying and senseless adventure; and the painter regards most art scholarship as a vacant ritual exercise. This type of divergence is as old as art and history. […] To be sure, certain historians possess the sensibility and the precision that characterize the best critics, but their number is small, and it is not as historians but as critics that they manifest these qualities.”34 We would have to add, thinking of Robert Morris, that a few artists also have the sensibility and the knowledge that characterize the greatest historians. But that is certainly another story.

Notes

1 See Paul Veyne, Comment on écrit l’histoire: essai d’épistémologie (Paris: Seuil, 1971), trans. Mina Moore-Rinvolucri, Writing History: Essay on Epistemology (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1984).

2 See Jean-Pierre Criqui, “Note lacunaire sur Robert Morris et la question de l’écriture,” in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1995, p. 83.

3 Robert Smithson, “Toward the Development of an Air Terminal Site,” Artforum, vol. 5, no. 10 (June 1967), p. 36, reprinted in Jack Flam, ed., Robert Smithson. The Collected Writings (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1996), p. 52. See also Valérie Mavridorakis, “‘Looping’ – Les projets pour l’aéroport de Dallas – Fort Worth,” in Christophe Cherix, Robert Morris, estampes et multiples 1952-1998: catalogue raisonné (Genève/Chatou: Cabinet des estampes/Centre national de l’estampe et de l’art imprimé, 1999), pp. 173-176; Gilles A. Tiberghien, “Robert Smithson et l’‘art aérien’,” in Marc Dorian, Frédéric Pousin, ed., Vues aériennes. Seize études pour une histoire culturelle (Genève: MetisPresses, 2012), p. 217-226. Translated as Seing from Above. The Aerial View in Visual Culture, edited by Mark Dorian and Frederic Pousin (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013), p. 277-289.

4 Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture, Part 2,” 1966, pp. 20-23, reprinted in Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, p. 16.

5 Ibid.

6 Robert Morris, “Observations on the Observatory,” in Sonsbeek 1971, ex. cat. (Arnhem: Park Sonsbeek, 1971), p. 57.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Robert Morris, “Robert Morris, a Keynote Address,” in Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, ex. cat. (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1979), pp. 11-27, henceforth referred to as: “Keynote Address.”

11 Ibid., p. 11.

12 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, pp. 87-102, reprinted in Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, pp. 211-232.

13 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 11.

14 George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1962), p. 6.

15 Robert Morris, “Keynote, Address,” p. 12.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid., p. 14.

18 Ibid.

19 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 212.

20 Smithson had written to Ralph Hatch, president of Hanna Coal Company, proposing to intervene on the Egypt Valley site in Ohio. He had said, notably, that the “artist, ecologist, and industrialist must develop in relation to each other, rather than continue to work and to produce in isolation.” Robert Smithson, “Proposal, 1972,” in Jack Flam, ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, op. cit., p. 379. Conscious of the growing media sensitivity to these problems, he emphasized that it would not be sufficient to reforest the grounds in order to restore the site. On the other hand, an “earth sculpture” would have a positive visual value and would attract attention to the process of environmental rehabilitation. At the same time, he remained rather skeptical of results. “I’m thinking of another problem that also exists, that of mining reclamation. It seems that when they made up the laws for mining reclamation they wanted to put back the mines the way they were before they mined them. Now that’s a real Humpty Dumpty way of doing things.” Robert Smithson, in Alison Sky, “Entropy made visible,” On Site, no. 4 (Fall 1973), pp. 26-30, reprinted in Jack Flam, ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, op. cit., p. 307.

21 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 219.

22 Ibid., p. 220.

23 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 16.

24 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 225.

25 Ibid., p. 230. This would not prevent Morris from actively protesting the Vietnam War in the sixties and at the beginning of the seventies. See Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), p. 107.

26 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, p. 230.

27 Robert Morris, “Observations on the Observatory,” op. cit.

28 E. de Wilde, “Interview met Robert Morris,” in Het Observatorium van Robert Morris in Oostelijk Flevoland, ex. cat. (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1977), n. p.

29 Ibid.

30 Nevertheless, and for other reasons that we should take the time to analyze, Morris will stigmatize Heizer as the best representative of what he calls The Wagner Effect, which characterizes artists working in gigantism with truly exorbitant means. The list is long: Lichtenstein, Robert Wilson, Turrell, Serra, Kiefer, Gehry, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. But The Wagner Effect can, insidiously, concern less spectacular works that nevertheless attempt to gain a central status in the history of art through “media manipulation.” Such would be the case of Yves Klein or Joseph Beuys. However, Michael Heizer’s Complex City in the desert “is surely one of the century’s most monstrous and egregious examples of the genre, and not to be forgotten are the works of the heirs of earth art.” Robert Morris, “Size Matters,” 2000, pp. 474-487, reprinted in Robert Morris, Have I Reasons: Work and Writings, 1993-2007, 2008, p. 129. In a text dating from 2003, “From a Chomskian Couch: The Imperialistic Unconscious,” Morris furthers his attack. This time Heizer, alongside Robert Smithson, Gutzon Borglum, Frederic Church, John Ford, and even Bruce Nauman, among others, represent both a certain American Phenomenological Awe (AMPHENA) that cultivates the mythology of wide open spaces of the West and a pronounced taste for gigantism, at the same time as the imperialistic unconscious of American art (IMPUNC). Because in the sixties, “earth art recapitulated the conquest of the West as an aesthetic allegory [and] Michael Heizer’s grandiose City in the desert may be the most demented and blatant metaphor yet for the IMPUNC gesture.” See Robert Morris, “From a Chomskian Couch: The Imperialistic Unconscious,” 2003, pp. 678-694, reprinted in Robert Morris, Have I Reasons: Work and Writings, 1993-2007, 2008, p. 174 and 176.

31 On the question of temporality in the work of Morris, in particular through the dimensions of memory and forgetting, see the interesting study by Katia Schneller, Robert Morris, sur les traces de Mnémosyne.

32 Robert Morris, “Keynote Address,” p. 13.

33 Robert Morris, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated,” 1970, pp. 62-66, reprinted in Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, p. 90.

34 George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, op. cit., pp. 25-26.

Table des illustrations

Titre 8. Robert Morris, The Observatory, 1971-1977. Earth, water, wood, granite, steel, 298 feet 7 inches (91.01 m) diameter. Permanent site-specific earthwork in Oostelijk, Flevoland.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3810/img-1.jpg
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Auteur

Associate professor in philosophy of art, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

© ENS Éditions, 2015

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540