A BIRDS'S-EYE VIEW OF ART

Some artworks really have to be seen from the air. Film, drones and satellites are making this a lot easier.

Making a film clip for ARTtube was my very first task as an intern at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Artist Steve McQueen had made Blues Before Sunrise (2012), an intervention in which the light in all the lampposts in the Vondelpark was blue. You could only truly experience the magic of this artwork by strolling around the park yourself. But the film, in which chance passers-by share their thoughts, gives something of an impression.

STEVE MCQUEEN, BLUES BEFORE SUNRISE (2012)

My second task was a lot harder. McQueen wanted to film the work from the air, but that proved to be mission impossible: helicopters aren’t allowed to take off after sunset and no exception could be made, even for the famous artist. Poor Steve. If only Blues Before Sunrise had been made a couple of years later, he could have used a drone to make a great film. There are other artworks you would really rather look at from above. Spiral Jetty (1970) for example: a 460-metre-long jetty made of 7,000 tons of mud, basalt blocks and salt crystals. It lies in a remote salt lake in Utah; hardly anybody goes there. The artist, Robert Smithson, understood the problem himself. He made a film of the work from a helicopter so that people could see at least some of it. The images, with the sun shining on the water, are fantastic and almost otherworldly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCfm95GyZt4

For years Spiral Jetty looked as though it had disappeared: a rise in the water level left it submerged. You can see on Google Maps that the work is completely dry now.

ROBERT SMITHSON, SPIRAL JETTY (1970)

There is another earthwork by Smithson – Broken Circle / Spiral Hill (1971 – in a sandpit in Emmen). You can climb a hill to view it from the top, but it is more beautiful seen from the air. Filmmaker Jeroen van der Poel used a drone (which finally crashed) to make a portrait of it for ARTtube. https://vimeo.com/126351175

ROBERT SMITHSON, BROKEN CIRCLE / SPIRAL HILL (1971)

There is more Land Art in the Netherlands. The Green Cathedral (1987) – a cathedral of poplars – by Marinus Boezem, for example. When you walk between the trees, it does feel a little like being in a church. But only when you rise above it do you see that it is actually a ground plan.

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