What is it about land art that gives it such an enduring appeal? Since its heyday in the 1960s and 70s as a new marker in the expanded field of sculpture, land art has continued to subsist with few fundamental changes. Artists like Richard Long have continued to take walks, arrange stone circles and make expansive marks in the landscape. In the museum-like surroundings of Haunch of Venison, Long has assembled a collection of works that display a remarkable consistency throughout the forty-year career of the artist.
One of the reasons for Long’s appeal must be the sheer physicality of his endeavours. His walks possess an heroic aura that have become part of the myths of contemporary art. Not since Jackson Pollock danced lyrically over his canvases, throwing paint at them, has an artist's physical presence been so closely allied with the myth of their practice. But herein lies the problem: with Pollock the evidence of the physical activity was spine-chilling to see. The paint strewn canvas was testimony to the activity which formed it, but for Long, the evidence of the activity is often obscure or arcane. The combinations of photographs and texts often give minimal information. Fragments of the walks or displacements are recorded in a manner which appears not to have changed since 1967 - a few names, positions and conditions are described but to what ends?
The climax of the show, or its centrepiece, is the room in which Long displays one of his carefully arranged stone circles. Small boulders of granite arranged, ever so neatly, in ever expanding circles until a pleasing radius is achieved. These pieces are so attractive that you find yourself wishing that your garden and your bank balance was bigger (or in the case of the couple standing close to me wondering how much two tons of granite would cost from their local builders’ merchant). But like much land art brought into the gallery they possess a sort of pathos and stillness which is ill-becoming of their inherent character.
Here in the ostentatious surroundings of Haunch of Venison, they speak not of mountains, river beds, or the heaving bowels of the earth, but of interior design or big museum business. They are beautiful objects - that is beyond doubt - but the rhetoric and danger they may have possessed in the 1960s seems to be lost on a contemporary audience. Like an enormous version of pebbles in a glass bowl on a bathroom shelf the works seem to have an odd relationship to their surroundings. Long is evidently at his best caught between the earth and the sky – it is just a shame we are unable to join him there.
Alongside Long's work are the photographs and bronzes of the lesser known Guissepe Perone. Although the works are intermingled, Haunch of Venison seems to class the two artists as separate shows.
-- Mike Tuck
All images courtesy Haunch of Venison
Images: Richard Long, Being at Midday, France, 2010, Text work, 105 x 165 cm; Richard Long, North South, 2011, White Portland stone and black Delabole slate, 720 cms diameter