The wide-open spaces of the American West are about as far removed as you can get from New York City’s elite art scene without leaving the country. Yet the cultural and geographic distances between the two places turned out to be major draws for a generation of artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s who rebelled against the art world’s establishment.
The new documentary “Troublemakers” follows the stories of iconoclastic figures such as Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria, who created monumental works of “land art” that cannot be bought or sold in commercial galleries. Combining vintage footage with recently shot aerial photography, filmmaker James Crump aims to take audiences on an immersive thrill ride to sites like Utah’s “Spiral Jetty” — a 1,500-foot coil of basalt and earth that juts out into the Great Salt Lake.
As part of their monthly film series, the Utah Film Center and the Grand County Public Library are teaming up to present a free screening of the documentary at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
Grand County Library Assistant Jessie Magleby said the visually stunning documentary gives audiences the unique opportunity to learn more about the unusual art movement. Anyone who has an appreciation for art, as well as free-thinkers and boundary-pushers, should mark their calendars for next week’s screening, she said.
“The film will be a great fit for Moab, being home to a high proportion of artistically minded people,” Magleby said. “It is also a rare chance to view some of these extraordinary earthworks … some of them aren’t open to the public, or only on a limited basis.”
Land artists of the era were rebelling in part against the limitations they saw in contemporary painting and sculpting. By working at a landscape-scale, they believed they were creating a new kind of art that could inspire awe in viewers.
They were active at a time when the Vietnam War was raging and Cold War anxieties fueled fears of a nuclear holocaust. Like many others in the counterculture, they often held dystopian views of the future that questioned the military-industrial complex, consumerism and what they viewed as the “banalities” of modern life and culture.
Utah Film Center Artistic Director Patrick Hubley said the film is an excellent introduction to the origins, personalities and sensibilities of land-art pioneers, such as “Spiral Jetty” creator Robert Smithson.
“This fascinating film isn’t just for land art aficionados, but is a primer for anyone interested in learning more about this influential artistic movement,” he said.
Crump first interviewed Heizer more than a decade ago, and he said he was intrigued to learn more about the artist, whose massive earthwork “City” is near the center of the new Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada.
“I was keen to discover why an artist who lived and worked in New York at such a pivotal time would leave everything for the open space of the Southwest to make art that was impervious to commodification,” he said in a director’s statement about the movie.
He views their work as a timely reminder to those who are active in today’s art world, which he considers to be a “hyper-speculative” industry that caters to wealthy collectors and investors.
“The story needed to be told now, with the express intention of retrieving the spirit of land art in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the rebels who created the work that defined it,” Crump said. “It is important to me that a new generation of much younger artists rediscover these troublemakers in order to fully realize that making art is not simply for the market and that celebrity or net worth are a rather inadequate justification for a career in the visual arts.”
“Troublemakers” runs for 72 minutes and is not rated. For more information about the film, or upcoming Utah Film Center movies at Star Hall, go to www.utahfilmcenter.org.
Free documentary screens on Jan. 21
“The film will be a great fit for Moab, being home to high proportion of artistically minded people.”
When: Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m.
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
For more information about the film, or upcoming Utah Film Center movies at Star Hall, go to www.utahfilmcenter.org.