Land art is art that is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape using natural materials such as rocks or twigs

Richard Long, 'Sahara Circle' 1988
Richard Long
Sahara Circle 1988
Colour photograph on paper
© Richard Long


Land art was part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The most famous land art work is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty of 1970, an earthwork built out into the Great Salt Lake in the USA. Though some artists such as Smithson used mechanical earth-moving equipment to make their artworks, other artists made minimal and temporary interventions in the landscape such as Richard Long who simply walked up and down until he had made a mark in the earth.

Land art, which is also known as earth art, was usually documented in artworks using photographs and maps which the artist could exhibit in a gallery. Land artists also made land art in the gallery by bringing in material from the landscape and using it to create installations.

As well as Richard Long and Robert Smithson, key land artists include Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim.

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Land artists in focus: Richard Long and Robert Smithson

Richard Long

Richard Long is most famously known for documenting his journeys from epic solitary walks through photography, maps and text.

My art is about working in the wide world,
wherever, on the surface of the earth.
My work is not urban, nor is it romantic.
It is the laying down of modern ideas
in the only practical places to take them.

Richard Long: Heaven and Earth
This exhibition, which was on display at Tate Britain in 2009, explored Long’s radical rethinking of the relationship between art and landscape. Read the room guide and look at a selection of works in focus with our online slideshow.

Richard Long: A Line in the Himalayas
Read this blog post which looks at Long’s A Line in the Himalayas and why lines are a popular motif in his work.

Richard Long, 'A Line in the Himalayas' 1975, printed 2004
Richard Long
A Line in the Himalayas 1975, printed 2004
Colour photograph on paper
© Richard Long

Five, six, pick up sticks
Travel writer Robert Macfarlane looks at Richard Long’s act of walking and how his work is a way of reverting back to ‘skimming the stones’ of his childhood.

Audio arts: Richard Long
Listen to conversations between William Furlong and Richard Long between 1984 and 1985 which also includes Richard Long reading a series of his poetic and simple statements about landscapes.

Find out about Richard Long’s career in relation to conceptual art and its resonances with English modernism in this recroding of a lecture by philosopher and art writer John Haldane.

Robert Smithson

American artist Robert Smithson used the land itself as his medium and the landscape as his gallery:

I think that’s more or less run its course – the typical idea of exhibitions in a museum. I think it would be quite possible to make art in a quarry, a mine, a lake, or canal – you know, any number of places. To build directly out of the ground of the site is one of my intentions.
Robert Smithson, in conversation with Kenneth Baker, 1971 

Robert Smithson spiral Jetty April 1970, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Robert Smithson
spiral Jetty April 1970, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Black rock, salt crystals, earth, red water (algae)
3½ X 15 X 1500 feet

A fearless embrace of our common existential situation as frail, short-sighted creatures lost in space in a temporarily lucky planet
Kenneth baker makes a pilgrimage to Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty.

Lost Art: Robert Smithson
Find out about the creation – and disintegration of Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed, 1970

Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson in England, 1969
Find out how the ancient ruins and wild natural places of England and Wales inspired land artists Robert Smithson and Nacy Holt.

In context

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for wrapping various things – including landscapes. Their landscape interventions have included wrapping two-and-a-half kilometres of coast and cliffs in Little Bay, Sydney and erecting a vast curtain of woven synthetic fabric across a valley in Colorado. In this video Christo talks about the practicalities and pitfalls his ambitious projects.


TateShots: Andy Goldsworthy studio visit
Using materials such as wood, stone and snow, Andy Goldsworthy’s art explores our connection with nature. TateShots visited him at his studio in southwest Scotland and took a walk with him through the landscape that is at the heart of his work.

Other perspectives

Hamish Fulton: Walking journey
Although he calls himself a ‘walking artist’ rather than a land artist, through his texts and photographs documenting his journeying through the landscape, Hamish Fulton manages to evoke a sense of place. 

Standing with one’s back to Utopia
Robert Smithson’s influence has continued long after his death. In this Tate Etc. article, Berlin based artist Katja Strunz discusses the influence of the seminal land artist on her early work.

In 1966 conceptual artist Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife, Sue, moved to the hillside farm of Stonypath, and set about transforming the surrounding acres into a unique garden in which sculptural and poetic elements are fused with the natural landscape.

Enlightening field
Artist Andrea Zittel is best -known for making sculptural ‘living units’ in New York and Europe. For the latest installment of her A- Z series she has swapped urban life for the Mojave Desert. Terry Myers visited her for this Tate Etc. article.

Andrea Zittel The A-Z Regenerating Field 2002 Photographed at night using a 60-minute exposure, with the lights of Joshua Tree in the background.
Andrea Zittel
The A-Z Regenerating Field 2002
Photographed at night using a 60-minute exposure, with the lights of Joshua Tree in the background.

In detail

Atomic Tourism and False Memories: Cai Guo-Qiang’s The Century with Mushroom Clouds
This Research paper examines Cai Guo-Qiang’s photographic series The Century with Mushroom Clouds, in which he documents his ‘activations’ of a series of historically and culturally charged landscapes in the USA by detonating small, hand-held explosive devices that formed miniature mushroom clouds.

Dennis Oppenheim: Talking Art
Interview with artist Dennis Oppenheim, whose early work includes Cancelled Crop 1969, a field harvested in the form of an X.

No End to the End: The Desert as Eschatology in Late Modernity
At the height of the Cold War, artists, writers and filmmakers in America turned to the desert as a space in which notions of ‘the end’ could be articulated. Unpacking the desert’s associations with nuclear apocalypse and environmental ruination, this paper explores works of art and film by Robert Smithson, Jean Tinguely and Michelangelo Antonioni.

To the Ends of the Earth: Art and Environment
Research article introducing a series of in-depth essays around the theme art and the environement reflecting on changing perceptions of the term ‘environment’ in relation to artistic practices.

Related glossary terms

Environmental art, conceptual art, psychogeography, landscape