The Photographer Who Went to Extreme Measures to Capture America’s Greatest Land Art

Artsy | Alina Cohen

Photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni worked as a kind of roadie, stuntman, and documentarian rolled into one. Throughout the early 1970s, he met the American stars of the Land Art movement, followed them out West, and captured their projects for posterity. The process often required physical courage as well as technical ability. The resulting photographs are more than simply records of other people’s art; they’re also skillful pictures of peculiar and vast landscapes. The adventurous Italian photographer traveled to the United States by boat in 1968, promising a photo essay about the trip as payment for his journey. He soon integrated himself into the country’s major cultural movements. He visited hippie communes across the country, photographed Woodstock, and settled in New York City. There Gorgoni infiltrated the art world by frequenting Max’s Kansas City, a magnet for the day’s prominent painters and sculptors, where he became familiar with Richard Serra, Carl Andre, and Robert Smithson.
Gorgoni, born in 1941, always aimed to capture more than artists and artworks; he wanted to celebrate an entire milieu. Famed gallerist Leo Castelli helped fund the photographer’s travels to document the day’s major artistic talents. Gorgoni’s first shoot of the series captured the major Minimalist artist, Robert Morris, installing an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art on April 1, 1970. These images were collected in a book, The New Avant-Garde: Issues for the Art of the Seventies (1972), which features snapshots of work by Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, and Carl Andre, in addition to that of two Europeans: Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz. The volume offers a very particular story about the era that followed Pop art, focusing on white male artists, many of whom socialized together and worked out of Los Angeles and New York. Nevertheless, the grouping offers a valuable glimpse into some of the key figures who pushed Minimalism, Land Art, and Conceptual Art forward (although the first two movements in particular skewed male, plenty of women also participated)…read more
Image: Spiral Jetty, 1970