Land Art and Flevoland in all seasons
2020-01-06 | By Sophia Zürcher
It could be said that the province of Flevoland is an open-air museum for Land Art. Currently Flevoland has nine monumental artworks made by world-renowned artists, including artwork in Zeewolde by the world-famous sculptor Richard Serra, one by international star architect Daniel Libeskind in Almere, and one by Marinus Boezem, one of the Netherlands’ most important conceptual artists.
All these artworks are situated in public space and can be discovered free of charge, day and night, by car or as part of an organised bus tour.
The artworks tell the story of the surrounding landscape, so travelling around the province and getting to know the art means getting to know the unique man-made landscape of Flevoland.
Culture for a young province
Flevoland is the smallest and youngest province of the Netherlands. A hundred years ago, this region was submerged in the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea), a bay of the North Sea. In 1918 the Dutch passed a law, the zuiderzeewet (South Sea Law) to initiate the largest land reclamation project. Most of the land was reclaimed in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The land was cultivated, cities were built, and it was decided that as this young region had no cultural tradition as yet, it needed landmarks of artistic value. Unlike the rest of the country, this new province had the space and the know-how to realise large monumental artworks. The planners and engineers opted for an art form that spoke to their imagination: Land Art.
Land Art is originally an American art movement which came to prominence in the late sixties and early seventies. American artists such as Robert Morris and Robert Smithson left the galleries and their studios and travelled into nature to create art on location and made art about the landscape, in the landscape, most often using natural materials such as rocks and wood. One of the most famous pieces of American Land Art is Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson in Great Salt Lake–a spiral made of six thousand tons of black basalt rocks.
Nine in one day
Visiting all the Land Art in Flevoland is possible in one day, for a persistent driver, a unique situation in the world. While visiting Land Art might seem like a summer activity, when you can go for a stroll and picnic near the art, it can also be rewarding to visit these works in the autumn or winter.
De Groene Kathedraal (the Green Cathedral) by Marinus Boezem is a living artwork, made of 178 poplars planted according to the ground plan of the famous cathedral in Reims, France. The artist has therefore given the young province of Flevoland a gothic cathedral –where wedding ceremonies do take place. De Groene Kathedraal looks stunning when its leaves turn colour in the autumn.
The work Observatorium by Robert Morris in Lelystad concerns the passing of time, and therefore per definition is worth visiting in different seasons. It was the first Land Artwork in the polder, realised in 1977 and consists of two large concentric earth walls, with the outer wall’s diameter 90 metres. The round contours contrast with the straight lines of the surrounding roads and plots, and within these circles three V-span (visor) openings were made casting views of the polder landscape.
On 21 March and 21 September, when the day and night are equally long, the first rays of sun can be seen creeping through Observatorium’s central steel visor. On the longest day of the year (21 June), the sun rises through the northeast visor–a moment celebrated every year with the poetry festival Sunsation. On the shortest day (21 December) get to Observatorium at 8:46 am to see the sun come up through the southeast visor–if it’s not too misty.
Did you know…
On the plot parallel to De Groene Kathedraal, Boezem has left open the outline of Reims Cathedral in a forest of oak and hornbeam hedges.
Part of the experience of Land Art is approaching it, which is almost like a pilgrimage. Observatorium feels like it is situated in the middle of nowhere, a real hidden gem. But the best climax to a rewarding journey is surely PIER+HORIZON by Paul de Kort in Kraggenburg. A drive down winding roads is followed by a kilometre walk, all the while with the Zwartemeerdijk blocking your view of the artwork, until finally the artwork is spectacularly revealed.
Paul de Kort’s jetty prolongs the path so you can walk ‘on’ the lake. So-called kraggen encircle the jetty, these are clusters of grown-together aquatic plants, especially reeds, which float like little islands, changing direction depending on wind and currents. PIER+HORIZON is located where a dam once in the Zuiderzee that connected the lighthouse Old Kraggenburg with the mainland at Genemuiden.
A Land Art Safari also helps understand the history of the Netherlands. When looking at the green fields, the trees, and the cities in the province of Flevoland, it’s hard to imagine that all this used to be sea. The Land Art makes you aware of this history, and helps you look at the landscape in a different way.
The Land Art monument with the enigmatic title Riff, PD#18245 was unveiled in October 2018 and was created by Swiss artist Bob Gramsma to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Zuiderzee Act by the Dutch government, when the sea was quelled, and the land reclaimed.
Gramsma began his work by making a foundation and poured some 15,000 cubic metres of earth–both agricultural soil and original Zuiderzee soil over it. He dug an irregularly-shaped hole in this huge mound, and then poured a layer of shotcrete (concrete projected at high velocity into a cavity). After that, the earth was bulldozed away, leaving a hollow cast of concrete with a skin of Zuiderzee soil.
The shape is defined by the mound of polder soil and echoes characteristics of other cavities in the polder, like canals and ditches. At the same time, Riff, PD#18245 also appears foreign in this environment– a hull resting on slanted pillars, aligned with the dikes. It is reminiscent of other human interventions in this particular landscape such as the water management and flood protections.
The sculpture literally emerges from, and melds into, the artificial land that is the polder. You can climb the stairs of the artwork, and look out over this new land, and see the old land of Elburg in the distance.
Visit landartflevoland.nl for more information and the addresses of the artworks. Land Art Flevoland organises bus tours every last Sunday from the months of May until September.
Experience the history of this young land with Richard Serra’s Sea Level in Zeewolde. Two concrete walls cross a park level, and at their outer ends disappear into the landscape. At the park’s lowest point the walls are several metres high. Without the dikes, the water would reach the top of the artwork. When you walk alongside this artwork, you can imagine yourself submerging in the water–or coming up for air, depending which direction you take. It makes you feel like you’re walking on the bottom of the sea. Which of course you are.
About the author
Sophia Zürcher is an art historian and lives in Utrecht but can often be found in Flevoland.