You can see a lot of weird stuff on Google Maps. If you’re taking a digital stroll around the world with the software’s Street View function, it’s not uncommon to see people intentionally trolling the Google car by making obscene or absurd gestures, or just chasing the 15-eyed, moving camera down the street. But if you zoom out a bit to the more peaceful satellite view, there are many other sights to behold, especially if you’re into Land Art.
We scoured the earth to find 11 of these remarkable works on Google Maps, which offers an unlikely historical summary of Land Art since the 1970s.
Double Negative (1969–70)
What: Michael Heizer’s City, his sprawling complex that looks like the remains of an ancient civilization, is off limits to the public, but drive 68 miles northeast from Las Vegas and you’ll find Double Negative, his great early land work, cut into the top of a mesa in the Moapa Valley. In 1969, Heizer began blasting two long, straight trenches, 30 feet wide and 50 feet deep, that face each other across a void. Altogether, he shifted 240,000 tons of desert sandstone.
“There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture,” Heizer once said. Acquired by LA MoCA in 1985, Double Negative is open around the clock, 365 days a year. And if you’re headed over from Los Angeles, it’s a five-and-a-half hour drive, so go suitably equipped—and prepare to be amazed.
Where: Moapa Valley, Overton, Nevada
Fun Fact: The art dealer and philanthropist Virginia Dwan bankrolled the project.
Spiral Jetty (1970)
What: Robert Smithson was drawn to the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah partly because microbes in the region turned the water a reddish color. Inspired by this prehistoric landscape, the maverick artist built the Spiral Jetty (1970) with the help of a construction crew, dump trucks, a tractor, and a front loader. All told, they moved 6,000 tons of black basalt rock and earth from the lake’s edge to form a counterclockwise spiral.
Smithson documented the epic construction of the work, making his film into a work of art in its own right. It includes shots of Smithson bestriding his mighty work, which is a remarkable 1,500 feet long, and 15 feet wide. Fellow land artist Nancy Holt, who was Smithson’s wife, donated Spiral Jetty to the Dia Art Foundation in 1999.
Where: Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Fun Fact: In 1967, Smithson published “The Monuments of Passaic,” a guide to his New Jersey hometown, which suggested, among other things, a visit to a local sandbox.
Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971)
What: Land Art isn’t limited to the great American West. Before his untimely death, Robert Smithson went to Europe and created Broken Circle/Spiral Hill in the northeast of the Netherlands. He made the work in the summer of 1971, intending it to be temporary, but the two-part sculpture still stands to this day in the green waters of a sand quarry just otuside the hamlet of Weerdinge. Smithson died in a plane crash during an exploratory trip in Texas in 1973, leaving the film for Broken Circle/Spiral Hill unfinished.
Where: Emmen, the Netherlands
Fun Fact: Smithson knocked on the quarry owner’s door and simply asked if he could build the work of art. The owner said yes right away.
What: This lesser-known work by Serra, which was commissioned by the collector Roger Davidson, and which was put on his family’s land, sprawls across more than 4 hectares in the countryside, around 30 miles north of Toronto. The six slabs of concrete that make up Shift are 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall, 20 centimeters (8 inches) thick, and their zig-zagging trajectory was decided when Serra and artist Joan Jonas visited the plot and realized that if two people walked across the bumpy land toward each other, they needed to walk in a snaking pattern to keep each other in sight. The edges of the work reflect the farthest they could stand apart while still remaining in view of one another.
Where: King City, Ontario, Canada
Fun Fact: In 1974, a real estate developer bought the land on which the work lives and sat on it until the 1990s, when it began considering developing the area. In 2009, to conserve the work, the town voted to make Shift and its surrounding land a protected cultural landscape.
Sun Tunnels (1973–76)
What: Nancy Holt aligned four large concrete cylinders in the Utah desert to frame sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices, ending up with a classic work of Land Art. Aiming, in her own words, to “bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale,” Holt made four 18 foot-long cylinders with 9 foot diameters arranged in an “x” pattern on the ground. Holt conceived the work in Amarillo, Texas, in 1973, and searched for a suitable site in Arizona and New Mexico before settling on Great Basin Desert of Utah. Sun Tunnels is one of the first permanent pieces of land art to be made by a female artist.
Where: Great Basin Desert, Utah
Fun Fact: Holt wrote concrete poetry when she was an editorial assistant at Harper’s Bazaar magazine in the 1960s.
Roden Crater (1970s–ongoing)
What: Since first spotting this extinct volcano while flying over it in a single-engine plane in 1974, Turrell has been fascinated by the site. Portals capture light directly from the sun in daylight hours, and the planets and stars at night, and over the course of four decades, Turrell has worked with astronomers to make sure the openings and excavations aligned correctly. (For example, the Alpha Tunnel is intended as a “naked-eye telescope” to view the setting moon.) Turrell has shifted millions of cubic yards of dirt for the project, but construction is ongoing, so his masterwork is closed to the public for now. But you can still get a peak courtesy of Google.
Where: Coconino County, Arizona
Fun Fact: In January 2018, Kanye West pledged $10 million to help Turrell finish the project.
Star Axis (1976–ongoing)
What: This earthwork in the New Mexico desert is meant to function like a naked-eye observatory, and is based formally on a variety of star alignments at different times. As you walk through the granite, sandstone, bronze, stainless steel, and earth structure, you are meant to see how “star space” relates to a human scale.
Where: Anton Chico, New Mexico, USA
Fun Fact: Star Axis is still under construction, although work began in 1976. Visitors are not welcome until it opens in 2022—although they will gladly take your money if you care to help out with funding.
15 untitled works in concrete (1980–84)
What: “Next to the bomb,” Donald Judd once said, “the bulldozer is just the most destructive invention of this century.” When he began purchasing land in the tiny town of Marfa in West Texas, Judd set about transforming a former military base into a home for his art and works by artists he admired. On the property, as 100 aluminum boxes shimmer inside two gun sheds, 15 other untitled works in concrete form a processional route along the border in the prairie beyond. The concrete boxes—some open ended, others closed—create a straight line running north to south on the flattest part of the site. In both installations, the spaces between the works are as important as the forms themselves—and the setting sun makes both come alive.
Where: Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas
Fun Fact: Donald Judd liked bonfires and bagpipe music, leading to some Marfa neighbors to wonder if he was the leader of a cult.
Sky Garden Crater (1992)
What: This unique, man-made crater from 1992 was commissioned by German art dealer Veith Turske, the former owner of the 163-acre property on which it sits. It works as a naked-eye sky observatory, which has a plinth at is center, so that viewers can sit down and take in the view. The work lives on the Liss Ard Estate, an 19th-century mansion (with 25 bedrooms), which has hosted celebrities like Patti Smith and Michael Stipe.
Where: Skibbereen, Ireland
Fun fact: In 2016, the estate was listed for sale for €7.5 million ($8.5 million).
Wave Field (1995)
What: Although Lin is best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, her Wave Field in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan is just as impressive. Located beside the François-Xavier Bagnoud aerospace engineering building on the university’s campus, it was commissioned by Bagnoud’s family after the young helicopter pilot, who studied at the school, died during a mission in Mali at the age of 24. Measuring 90 feet square, the earth work is designed in a wave pattern.
Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Fun Fact: In 1989, Yale University commissioned Lin, an alumnus, to create a sculpture titled Woman’s Table to honor the hundreds of women who studied unofficially at the university before it became coeducational in 1969.
Desert Breath (1997)
What: This huge installation was dug into the sand of the Sahara desert near the Red Sea coast in Egypt in 1997. It was the collaborative work of a Greek team including the artist Danae Stratou, the designer Alexandra Stratou, and the architect Stella Konstantinidis, under the umbrella D.A.ST. Arteam. It consists of 89 protruding sand cones and 89 depressions set in spirals with a central pool, which has since evaporated. Spanning 25 acres in the largest desert in Africa, it’s meant to encourage a contemplation of infinity.
Where: Qesm Hurghada, Red Sea Governorate, Egypt
Fun Fact: Made from the existing desert sand, Desert Breath will eventually erode and revert to its original state.
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