Environmental art is nothing new, as artists have been inspired by nature since the very beginnings of art-making, using nature as both an inspiration and tool for creating.
But, with the growing installation art movement, environmental art has taken on a whole new meaning: the use of nature as material and message has evolved into a much larger-scale, more powerful practice.
The sheer scale of some environmental installations surprise us at first, as we aren’t prepared for the disruption to our regular spaces, and then as our interest is piqued, we explore the details: materials, message, emotions, experience.
What an effective way to get a message across, whether it results in a heightened appreciation of nature or issues like pollution and resource depletion.
I’ve curated these installation art examples starting with a bunch of newer artists, and I’ve included some of the classics at the end (Christo and Jeanne Claude, Andy Goldsworthy), because you can’t talk about land and nature art without these pioneers.
Environmental Installation Art
Photos © Rebecca Louise Law
First up is Rebecca Louise Law. The flowers!! Look how shimmery beautiful they all look, and you can almost feel the sensation of walking through the hanging strands.
This 2018 installation at the Toledo Museum of Art was made with the help of 1,800 volunteer hours and completely transformed this space into a magical flower world.
Law uses flowers and leaves in her beautiful works to celebrate and remind us of our relationship with nature, and reuses much of the material over again.
Watch this wonderful video about the installation.
Photos © Edith Meusnier
Textile artist Edith Meusnier creates giant outdoor installation pieces that both fit into and contrast the natural surroundings. She uses mostly gift wrap ribbon that moves with and reacts to the surroundings.
In an interview with Textile Curator, she describes her work as:
Light, transparent, colorful, convertible, serial and ephemeral.
I have been working on the borderline between textile art and art in situ, I choose very trivial materials, I craft them with primitive textile techniques to produce simple geometric shapes, then I install these flexible structures in different urban or rural areas.
Playing with opposites, natural-artificial, continuity-brittleness, fragile-solid these parenthesis underline the tensions between realities and fictions of a selected landscape.
Edith Meusnier website
Photos © Red Earth
Artists Caitlin Easterby and Simon Pascoe head a group called Red Earth, where they create site specific art installations and performances with the goal of reconnecting people with the earth.
They collaborate with other artists and specialists in historic and scientific fields, which seems to be a common trend, for lack of a better word, with environmental artists.
On their site, they list what they do:
- Site-specific sculpture installations and live performance in the landscape
- International collaborations in British and foreign landscapes
- Interdisciplinary collaborations
- Lectures, workshops and residencies
Photos © Ugo Rondinone
Seven Magic Mountains is a land art installation consisting of towers of neon rocks set up in the middle of Nevada. Learn more about this installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone here.
Photos © Rune Guneriussen
Rune Guneriussen is a Norwegian artist creating installations in nature and documenting them through photography. My favorites are his groupings of lamps in unexpected remote areas, that look like groups of little creatures.
From his site:
As an artist he believes strongly that art itself should be questioning and bewildering as opposed to patronising and restricting. As opposed to the current fashion he does not want to dictate a way to the understanding of his art, but rather indicate a path to understanding a story.
Photos © Rob Mulholland
Rob Mulholland is an English environmental artist and sculptor whose pieces literally reflect nature’s effect on humans and vice versa. He uses mirrored surfaces on human and abstract forms placed within different environments.
The reflection is purposely distorted inviting the viewer to question their individual relationship with their surroundings.
Stickwork is the name of Patrick Dougherty’s site, where he showcases his woven land art. His pieces are made with hundreds of saplings, coming together to form dynamic structures that draw you in yet look like they might blow away with you as well.
What I love about Dougherty’s installations is the level of interaction they invite, and you can see the joy in the faces of kids who are playing around in them.
Patrick Dougherty website
Photos © Nils Udo
Nils Udo is a Bavarian artist who creates pieces in and with nature, photographs them, and leaves them to the mercy of the elements.
He’s made an impressive number of works that span from the 1960’s up to the present.
Nature is still complete and inexhaustible in her most remote refuges, her magic still real. At any time, meaning any season, in all weathers, in things great and small. Always. Potential Utopias are under every stone, on every leaf and behind every tree, in the clouds and in the wind. Pitting poetry against the inhuman river of time.
Nils Udo website
Photos © Jaakko Pernu
Jaakko Pernu is a Finnish sculptor who uses mainly willow branches to fashion large-scale installations whose geometric shapes play up the nature of the material.
His use of wood is directly influenced from his time as a boy spent constructing wooden boats with his father.
My theme is the influence of humans on nature – the influence of nature on humans. Jaakko Pernu
More about Jaakko Pernu here
Photos © Agnes Denes
Agnes Denes planted a huge wheat field on 2 acres of landfill near Wall Street in 1982, and has been an active environmental artist since the 1960’s. She is considered a pioneer of the environmental art movement.
Currently, Denes is working on planting 100,000 trees on a landfill in Queens.
The importance of this project is not only to help with health conditions but to transform a treeless, barren landfill into a thriving forest. More than merely cleaning the air and ground water, a place of beauty will be created that people will be able to visit and take pleasure in, a destination to give them strength for the challenges of modern life.
Agnes Denes website
Photos © Christo and Jeanne Claude
Christo and Jeanne Claude may be the most well-known of the site specific installation artists, with recognizable works like Surrounded Islands, Wrapped Trees, and Running Fence.
Their large-scale works span decades and are impressive in scale and visual impact. They have said there is no larger meaning behind their work other than “simply to create works of art for joy and beauty and to create new ways of seeing familiar landscapes.” source
Photos © Andy Goldsworthy
British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy may be the most well known land artist in the bunch, with his stunning manipulations and arrangements of natural materials.
Andy Goldsworthy’s work
Ready for a road trip? Curbed has created a map of large land art pieces across the U.S.