Saturday, 20 June 2009


I was in London for the Royal Literary Fund Summer Party (thanks to Steve Cook of the RLF for a great spread and good company) so I went to see the  exhibition Richard Long: Heaven and Earth at Tate Britain. I've seen lots of Long's work at different galleries but I haven't seen a really big show before. The large scale mud wall paintings and the installed stone sculptures really have a strong physical impact when gathered together on this scale and Tate Britain can show this kind of work very effectively. The other work is documentation of events, especially walking and making land art out in the landscape. So what you see is a record of something already over and the work is conceptual, communicated through wall-painted lists and photographs which have their own generic aesthetic: the lists assembled in large scale Gill Sans capitals, typically in red and black. The photos usually empty of humans except the evidence of Richard Long's own low impact interventions: walking to make a line in grass or moving some local stones about. 
     There is something unsatisfactory about work that is communicated only through documentation. It's like having a theatre programme to a show you couldn't attend. So for me the wall paintings and sculpture installations have an important function in the exhibition, even though they undermine the conceptual purity and the aesthetic of minimal environmental intervention in Long's work. The impact of hand made work that is there in itself is a crucial experience. The work wants not to be Romantic about the landscape, but the life story of a singular walker in the UK and in remote wilderness locations all over the world, cannot help but establish an heroic artist explorer like a posh Victorian mountaineer at the centre of the enterprise. Even so, it is very moving to have this record of a life work of great clarity, intelligence, and environmental concern. 

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