Kirsten Swenson (University of Massachusetts, Lowell)
“City Earthworks: Land Art and Urban Redevelopment”
This talk will consider artist-designed parks and earthworks designed by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Nancy Holt, Agnes Denes, Mary Miss, and Suzanne Harris in the Boston, Washington, and New York metropolitan areas. Such projects, dating from the 1970s to the early 1990s, extended notions of Land art to reconceive and reclaim urban spaces. By the 1980s, Holt, Miss, and Ukeles had designed parks in concert with private development and public reclamation efforts. These artist-designed landscapes, pursued in collaboration with landscape architects, developers, arts councils, and community groups, represent a complex and little-examined form of public art-as-amenity that has shaped the experience of key urban sites.
Kirsten Swenson is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. In 2021-2022, she was an American Council of Learned Societies Burkhardt Fellow at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress where she conducted research toward her current book project, “Public Works: Land Art and Urban Redevelopment.” This book is also supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation. Swenson is the author of the books Irrational Judgments: Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, and 1960s New York (Yale University Press, 2015) and, with Emily Eliza Scott, Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics (University of California Press, 2015). She co-curated the exhibition Local Ecologies: Artistic Investigations of Eastern Massachusetts that travelled to three UMass campuses in 2019 and 2020. A book based on Local Ecologies, co-authored with Rebecca Uchill, will be published in 2023 by Amherst College Press. Swenson’s scholarship and art criticism have appeared in venues such as Art Journal and American Art, and in edited volumes and exhibition catalogs including Robert Ryman (Dia and Yale, 2017), Donald Judd: Paintings 1960-1961 (Prestel, 2019), Locating Sol LeWitt (Yale, 2021), and Nancy Holt: Stone Enclosure, Rock Rings (Bruna, 2022). She is a contributing writer for Art in America magazine; her feature article “From Gravel Pits to Sculpture Parks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture in Seattle” appears in the September, 2022 issue.
James Nisbet (University of California Irvine)
“Simulacra at Sea: Joseph Linesch, Modernist Sculpture, and Offshore Drilling in California”
From 1965 to 1968, four artificial islands were constructed just off the shoreline of Long Beach, California, within the heavily developed and industrialized coastal ecosystems of Southern California. Built for the purpose of extracting oil from the Wilmington Oil Field, they differed from earlier (and later) offshore extraction operations in creating elaborately designed environments. Spearheaded by the landscape architect Joseph Linesch, in collaboration with artists and engineers, these islands incorporated minimalist architectural and sculptural forms and extensive landscaping to shroud their operations. But as more than simply “camouflage” or “disguise,” as many of the initial critical responses characterized these aestheticized oil islands, the artistic program of Long Beach’s oil islands reveals the deeper undercurrents of industrialized modernism and decimation of coastal land management in the western United States.
James Nisbet is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Art History and Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine, and Director of the Environmental Humanities Research Center. He has published widely on the history and theory of ecocritical visual art and aesthetics from late modernism to the present. His recent book projects include Second Site (Princeton University Press, 2021), and as editor with Lyle Massey, The Invention of the American Desert: Art, Land, and the Politics of Environment (University of California Press, 2021).