Site specific installation at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Sept., 2004
Besides the objects themselves, art is composed of its stories. Important events get written about and artists become famous. What we rarely hear about are the ‘near misses’, the artists who almost, but didn’t quite make it into history. Sometimes the stories of the ‘work that almost was’ are as interesting as the stories we come to know about the successes. When we are told the story of an important exhibition, the actions and intentions of the artists, curators, and critics involved are part of that narrative, as well as their histories and the little personal details that led to their momentous success. The ‘near misses’ have their stories as well, often with surprising details; anything from a petty squabble, an illness, or bad weather that fated those involved to art historical oblivion.
In 1969 Willoughby Sharp organized an exhibition, “Earth Art”, at the A.D. White house. This show would come to be known as one of the most important shows of its time. It would be the first major exhibition of Earth Art as well as a symposium featuring the participating artists. The exhibition featured works by several who subsequently gained great fame in the artworld; artists like Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, and Michael
Behind that narrative however, another one lurks. This story revolves around Walter de Maria (best known for his outdoor sculpture, “The Lightning Field”) and the director the museum at the time, Thomas Leavitt. De Maria was also invited to participate in the exhibition and the symposium. He did, in fact show up at Cornell to install a work, for which he wrote, with the handle from a broom, the title phrase, “Good Fuck”, in a pile of dirt he’d placed in the gallery. This caused an argument with Leavitt that culminated in de Maria’s withdrawal from the exhibition. His name was removed from all documentation, he did not participate in the symposium, and his dirt pile was swept out of the gallery (perhaps with the very broom he had used to form it).
As an artist, I find stories like these fascinating. Every institution and every artist surely has a ghost or two like this in the closet. Who knew that an argument over ‘good taste’ or ‘appropriateness’ would lead to de Maria missing out on what would become a pivotal exhibition in recent art history?
For my contribution to the “CCA Emerging Artists Exhibition”, I wish to give a nod to this particular story. I am submitting a drawing and an accompanying sculptural installation in order to pay tribute to this episode. The drawing is a portrait of Walter de Maria, drawn from a photograph taken during the year of the exhibition (1969), to be captioned with “Good Fuck,” the title phrase from de Maria’s Earth Art submission. The drawing is mounted on the wall near a sculpture, which will consists of a broom partially buried in a pile of dirt. The handle of the broom stands straight up from the pile so that the tip of the handle is at approximately head height.