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Art & Design Pilgrimages

From classic ’70s earthworks like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, to this summer’s best ephemeral architectural constructions, we’ve rounded up a list of large-scale site-specific modern art and architecture that requires a pilgrimage of sorts, whether it’s a flight, trek, drive, or subway ride. And to take advantage of prime picnicking weather, these are all outdoors excursions.



  • Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden
    Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden

    St. Ives, Cornwall, UK

    It’s a significant summer for the late great modern sculptor Barbara Hepworth, with a major retrospective of her work being held at Tate Britain through October. A good way to complement the show (and an excellent excuse to travel to the English seaside) is to make the journey down to St. Ives to her one-time studio. The highlight here are the gardens, which she carefully designed with the help of a composer friend, specifying exactly where each of her sculptures went.

  • Edward James, Fondo Xilitla
    Edward James, Fondo Xilitla

    Las Pozas, San Luis Potosi, Mexico

    This sculpture garden in the Mexican countryside is an incredible retreat for dedicated Surrealists. Its rich history comes courtesy of Edward James, a well-born English gent and a major patron of Surrealist art—he appears in a couple of paintings by Magritte, and was a supporter and friend of Dali’s. James made his way out to the Mexican wilderness in the late ’40s and never left. He sold his entire collection to fund the acquisition of a verdant coffee plantation named Las Pozas in San Luis Potosi, where he spent the ’60s and ’70s building his own surrealist sculptures throughout the property. There are only a few places to stay nearby, and none of them could be classed as luxurious, but the trip into James’ wacky sculpture gardens, waterfalls, and swimming holes is a true adventure. And, this being coffee country in Mexico, the surrounding jungle landscape is breathtaking.

  • James Turrell, The Illumination
    James Turrell, The Illumination

    Through October 24th, 2015
    Houghton Hall, Norfolk, UK

    How to make an enormous inherited estate profitable in England in this day and age? The Cholmondeley family seems to have figured it out, attracting art lovers to their family seat in Norfolk for special commissions by artists like Rachel Whiteread, Richard Long, Jeppe Hein, and James Turrell. Not only do they have one of Turrell’s ever-popular Skyspaces on display, but they’ve also commissioned one of his “illuminations” especially for the West façade of the house. After a spate of major exhibitions at the Guggenheim NY, LACMA, the National Gallery of Australia, and more, the land artist’s work is now more popular than ever, making it perfect timing for a trek out to the English countryside. Visitors get to picnic on the lawn, watch the Norfolk sunset, and take in the beautifully meditative light piece through the summer and into the fall. Plus, a trip here is significantly less laborious than a visit to Turrell’s yet-to-be-completed Roden Crater in the New Mexico desert.

    West Façade Illumination, 2015. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. Image courtesy of the artist and Houghton Hall

  • Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks
    Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks

    Chelsea, New York City

    New Yorkers don’t need to travel far for this installation: Part of the magic is discovering an important piece of land art on a mundane city street. On 22nd street between 10th and 11th avenues in Chelsea, passersby may (or may not) notice large slabs of basalt placed systematically next to the trees lining the sidewalk. As it turns out, it’s an installation that Joseph Beuys began in Germany in the ’80s, planting 7,000 oaks with slabs of basalt next to them. As in the ’90s New York version of the installation, you can still find the trees—and their companion stones—in Kassel, Germany. Somewhat poignantly, the trees continue to grow as the stones remain completely unchanged through the years.

    Joseph Beuys, 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks), inaugurated at Documenta in 1982. West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in New York City. © Joseph Beuys / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Ken Goebel

  •  Michael Heizer, Levitated Mass
    Michael Heizer, Levitated Mass

    LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

    Michael Heizer is another major earthworks artist, among whose most famous pieces is Double Negative, an impressive cavity dug into the Mormon Mesa in western Nevada. For a shorter trek to an equally remarkable Heizer work, head to the LACMA, where a 340 ton rock rests—seemingly precariously—above a concrete outdoor hallway (visitors walk directly below it). The megalith, as it’s termed, had a ceremonious pilgrimage of its own, traveling on a fittingly gigantic truck for 11 nights through 22 cities, to arrive at the museum in 2012.

    Michael Heizer. Levitated Mass, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Michael Heizer.

  • Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty
    Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty

    Great Salt Lake, Utah

    When it comes to land art, this massive basalt spiral located at the northern end of Utah’s Great Salt Lake tops the list. For one, the basalt structure—now covered in salt—is visible from space. For two, it took a team of just Robert Smithson and two others to construct the enormous 1,500 foot spiral. And then there’s the fact that the site has survived over 40 years, even after being submerged for almost 30. Nowadays, anyone making the road trip out to the jetty can count themselves lucky to find it, as drought conditions make it so that it’s no longer submerged.

    Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. © Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Photo: George Steinmetz

  • Storm King Art Center
    Storm King Art Center

    New Windsor, New York

    Sol Lewitt, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Tony Smith, Mark di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg, the list goes on: Basically all the major modern sculptors have a spot at Storm King.  (And by spot, we mean a lot of space.) Storm King is set across 500 acres of rolling Hudson River Valley hills, so pack a picnic and walking shoes and get lost in the landscape, where there are more than 100 major works to discover. Among them, two Andy Goldsworthy commissions: On two separate occasions, he brought British “wallers” to New York specifically to build two of his signature stone walls. Plus, this summer brings a show of four of Lydia Benglis’ lesser-known works—colorful working fountains that are dotted across the park.

  • Cosmo by Andres Jaque/Office for Political Innovation
    Cosmo by Andres Jaque/Office for Political Innovation

    MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York

    Every summer, MoMA PS1’s Warm Up Series attracts music lovers of all kinds: They host an all-star roster of DJs in the courtyard. The added bonus each year is always the architectural installation to accompany the tunes, which is the year’s winning entry to the MoMA’s Young Architects Program. This year is no exception: Andres Jaque’s Cosmo is a futuristic and epic irrigation system built to purify 3,000 gallons of water while concert-goers party underneath. This summer there’s the added bonus of a schedule of cutting-edge design studios, including Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Fort Standard, and Fort Makers, who are in charge of the stage designs.

  • Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada, Marfa
    Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada, Marfa

    Marfa, Texas

    It’s funny and not just a little odd that Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s literal reconstruction of a Prada store (Miuccia approved, no less) has become so emblematic of a place that’s also known as the chosen residence of staunch minimalists like Donald Judd. So when you’re headed out to the Chinati Foundation to see the monumentally poetic wonders that Judd, Dan Flavin, and John Chamberlain have left behind, don’t miss the Prada store on the way. It remains, after 10 years, totally sealed and unchanged against the desert landscape—a perfectly dead-pan joke on our modern day consumerist tendencies.

  • Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light
    Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light

    Opening September 23, 2015
    El Convento Natural Protected Area, Puerto Rico

    The DIA Art Foundation has for years been a major patron of site-specific work, funding everything from Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field, to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, to The Dan Flavin Art Institute, and more. Much of the land art movement took place in the early ’70s, so it’s exciting to see the foundation supporting new players on the scene, namely the artist pair Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla. They’re taking a Dan Flavin neon work to a remote cave in Puerto Rico and lighting it up using solar power for the next two years. Gossip in the art world is that the Flavin estate has not approved this appropriation of the artist’s work, so we’ll be interested to hear how the piece goes over when it lights up in September.

  • Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain
    Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain

    Niland, California

    While the man who spent more than 30 years building and painting a tribute to God on a mountain in Southern California wouldn’t have classed himself as an artist, the explosion of color and pattern he left behind is an absolutely wonderful specimen of folk art. Leonard Knight passed away last year but Salvation Mountain is still open, thanks to a group of dedicated local volunteers and Knight groupies. It helps that Salvation Mountain is located right near Slab City, a famous campsite haven for hippies, travelers, and “snowbirds” who continue to watch over Knight’s masterpiece.

  • Natalie Jeremijenko, Tree Logic
    Natalie Jeremijenko, Tree Logic

    Mass MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts

    Though it’s one of the best museums in the country for the most current trends in contemporary art, a big part of the Mass MoCA’s allure lies in its pretty major permanent and site-specific installations. Plenty of art lovers make the trip out to the Massachusetts woods just to see Sol Lewitt’s drawing that’s “on loan” until 2033, or Natalie Jerimejenko’s tree “experiment” in the museum entrance. One of Mass MoCA’s inaugural displays, Jerimejenko’s six trees have hung upside down since 1999, growing downwards and upwards at the same time. Over the years, the artist has continually collected data about the trees’ growth, while repeat visitors check on their status each year—it’s a piece that feels as permanent as it does ephemeral.

  • Serpentine Pavilion
    Serpentine Pavilion

    Serpentine Galleries, London, UK

    The cultural keystone of the British Summer is always the opening of the Serpentine Pavilion, which dependably promises a glitzy opening party, and cutting-edge ephemeral architecture by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer, Ai Weiwei, and more. This year’s winners are Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano of Selgas Cano, a young, relatively-unknown Spanish practice, who’ve built a colorful system of steel and plastic tunnels for the Serpentine’s lawns. This being the 15th anniversary of the Pavilion program, this year’s structure is appropriately joyful and celebratory.

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