Australian artist Andrew Rogers has spent the last 13 years bouncing between 13 countries on all seven continents, working with over 6,700 people in all, creating sculptures in deserts, glaciers, gorges, city centers, national parks and mountain ranges — including one just a short drive away in Yucca Valley.
Rogers' works are hyper-local, constructed of earth and rocks culled from indigenous geological materials, following the character of each location's landscape, with imagery based on the folklore of the region. Though they're designed in Rogers' distinct style fusing clean construction, muscular but simple lines, crisp, confident handling of stone and a knack for envisioning what it will look like from the air, they are physically built by hundreds upon hundreds of local laborers. Big-budget and high-profile productions, their economic effects on the locales are almost as long-lasting as the stone used to make the artworks.
Andrew Rogers: Time and Space, which opened at the 18th Street Arts Complex on Saturday night, is a selection of 68 aerial and satellite photographs of this ground-breaking, pun intended, outdoor art project, comprising 47 of his “geoglyphs” and being shown together in L.A. for the first time.
At an affable and very civilized dinner following the opening reception, I had the honor of being seated next to the artist. Since he started 13 years ago, he told me, he's been getting more and more invitations from countries eager to participate, and he next travels to work on new pieces in Namibia and Argentina.
Whether that's due to the presence of enlightened art lovers in the civic agencies of the world's most remote regions, or to the economic impact the arrival of a Rogers project has on the local populations who are always hired to help build the works — each one directly employs at least 1,000 people and at better than average wages, $5 rather than the customary $2 or less — is hard to say, but the result is the same: these things keep getting made. And he's eager to point out that “people have tended to become invested in what they've helped create, adopting the projects and by and large choosing to protect and preserve them.”
He fuses a basic belief in the universal accessibility of Western-style modernism with ambitious ideas about the “essential interconnectedness of peoples to each other, and of humanity to the earth” into a hybrid vision that's halfway too New-Age for some critics. But with a relative disregard for the cynical conventions of urbane art-world types that goes well with his Aussie accent, he's fashioned this ambitious notion into an example of global thinking meeting local circumstance.
California and the American Southwest in general has an historical affinity for this genre; one need only think of Christo and his valleys full of yellow umbrellas; earthwork pioneer Robert Smithson and the legend of the Spiral Jetty; theoretician and conceptual architect Michael Heizer; and James Turrell with his big dig at the Roden Crater, although Rogers feels that Turrell isn't rightly a land-artist, since “he hasn't even finished the one piece yet!”
Heizer's “City” isn't fully completed either, but regardless, like them, Rogers is motivated by “the challenge to use [the raw materials of the planet] in a new and different way, and make them convey meaning in a way no one's ever seen.”
His recently-finished work in Turkey is now the world's largest contemporary land art park, giving beloved and world-famous U.S. sites like Smithson's Spiral Jetty, de Maria's Lighting Fields, and upstate New York sculpture park Storm King a run for the title. It includes 12 massive stone structures, most built by hand, the lines of which are about 4 miles long and took over 10,500 tons of stone to erect.
On a side note, the monumental Turkey installation made it all the more salient that the other gallery at the 18th Street complex currently features the brilliant and vivacious Los Angeles-Istanbul Connection show, bringing together work by five Turkish and five LA artists in painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation. With this happy coincidence, together with the curators' presence in the eclectic, international makeup of the dinner crowd, Rogers must have felt right at home in yet another foreign land.