“The par is three for every hole,” we were told matter-of-factly, “except number two, which is par seventeen, and number seven, which is par infinity.” I didn’t like the sound of that, but the potential embarrassment of swinging into the night was outweighed by the shame of giving up. We’ll deal with it when we deal with it.
Land art is not an exclusively American phenomenon, and neither is miniature golf, but we have muscled ourselves into being primarily associated with them. Land art (or Robert Smithson’s more poetical term “earthworks”) doesn’t necessarily represent a transcendentalist ideal of art freed from museum logistics, and many land art shows seek to dismantle the romanticism associated with such works. Land art tends to rely heavily on art world logistics to secure funding and labor, but Will Brown still recognizes the inherent absurdity of mounting a land art show within a traditional exhibition space. Their playful experiment aims only to combine “the egalitarian roots of one American pastime with the outsized ambitions of another.” We’ll just have to guess which is which.
Hole 1 - Cadillac Ranch by Ant Farm
I was up first. The tee was on one end of the long astroturf platform, and the hole was all the way on the other side, separated by the row of iconic cars with their pretty asses in the air, daring us to get around them. We both sailed through this hole at par 2, avoiding the cars altogether by hitting the ball against the wall and letting it slide up to the hole unobstructed.
Hole 2 - Stone Circle by Richard Long
“The trick to this one” our host said, “is to use much less force than you think you need.” I ignored this confucian bit of advice, taking nine increasingly angry strokes to get the thingy in the thing. My loving partner, in a disheartening feat of concentration, made a hole in one. The other players burst into hoots and applause. He was promised a free candy for his accomplishment. I was already far behind, feeling irrationally upset and hyper-competitive, but trying to keep a calm exterior because I am a cool, detached arbiter of cultural critique.
Hole 3 - Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer
I made up some of my strokes here, putting the ball straight and fast under the rock like a disaffected LACMA patron. My partner (henceforth Sterling) was riding too high on his early success and took ten full strokes.
Hole 4 - Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt
Two strokes apiece. Ironically, the hole modeled after the most conceptually elegant land work (the holes in the tunnels leverage sunlight to project celestial constellations within their walls, conjuring the night sky in the middle of the noonday Utah sun) was also the easiest to navigate. We used the same evasive strategy as hole one, depriving the little balls of stepping through the tunnels to experience the little points of light, the sun imitating the stars.
Hole 5 - Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson
Sterling hit par, I hit two strokes above. Our balls disappeared into a hole in the ground to reappear in the basement. The proprietors actually drilled a hole into the gallery floor, willing to mar their space in favor of an authentic mini-golf-slash-artistic experience.
Hole 6 - The Lightning Field by Walter De Maria
Tucked in the corner of the darkened basement, strobe lights flashing, this is by far the most nerve-racking hole. My ball bounces wildly off the lightning rods and miraculously lands in only two strokes. Sterling chose to linger in the danger, par 5.
Hole 7 - Wrapped Coast by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
I really do think this one is impossible. Our balls kept getting lost in the folds of the ghostly rocks. We both ended up picking them out and starting over several times. I still finished six strokes ahead of Sterling.
Hole 8 - To Be Viewed From Mars by Isamu Noguchi
Conceived as a response to the 1976 discovery of a Face on Mars (turns out earthworks aren’t even confined to the Earth), this work sadly only exists as an idea. I worked my way around the geometric facial features in two strokes. Sterling’s fatigue was getting the best of him - nine strokes.
Hole 9 - Roden Crater by James Turrell
The crater is all or nothing. Either you make it up the ramp and the ball flies gracefully through the air, landing in the heart of the ancient red-black cinder cone volcano, or it bounces off the walls and probably into someone else’s game. High on my underdog success, I do it in two strokes. Sterling has already lost, but doesn’t want to lose face by giving up, and does it in nine. Turrell would be proud of his face-saving resilience. Less so perhaps of my gloating victory.
Installation "Earth Putt // Putt Works" at Will Brown Gallery.
Cartography and maps are ancillary features of exhibiting land art that are kind of poignant little works in themselves. Carrying home a photograph or tote bag makes you feel like you’ve been duped into buying the very things that land art seeks to circumvent—petty tchotchkes, bought experience via prescribed cultural channels—but souvenirs are a sacred American right, and maps are a satisfactory solution. MOCA has partnered with Google Earth to create an interactive map of all the works represented in their Ends of the Earth exhibition. In addition to hot dogs and candy, Will Brown is offering a special edition book, "Round trip driving directions from Will Brown to each work represented in Earth Putt / Putt Works in alphabetical order" for only three dollars. The vast majority of us will never be privy to experiencing any land art first hand, but the map is always there. Should we be content with the possibility of this experience, or create new ones in the shadow of it, standing god-like over some of man’s greatest achievements, with putter at the ready? —Christina Catherine Martinez
(Image on top: Robert Smithson, Miniature golf, Installation "Earth Putt // Putt Works" at Will Brown Gallery. All photos by the author.)