Once you get past the period rhetoric about taking art out of the galleries that surrounds Earth/Land art, it becomes possible to detect in it a nostalgia for the kind of muscular, heroic, infrastructure building that once defined American modernity. The odd thing, looking back at this type of work with the knowledge of America’s subsequent deindustrialization, is that there were artists in the ’70s who were already sensing the shift. For it is precisely at the moment that a technology or a set of technological operations are becoming obsolete that they become available to artists as aesthetic tools.
The ’70s in America were the twilight of the New Deal era and the beginning the neoliberal asset stripping of the economy. Today, America seems to produce nothing but speculative financial instruments and ever-more-strained Hollywood fantasies.
What was in the process of being “dematerialized” in the course of the ’70s was the American economy itself. Art followed suit. As it always does.