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Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art

Studio: First Run
Directed by James Crump

Feb 04, 2016 Web Exclusive
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The fascination factor in documentary film has a lot to do with the thoughtful perspectives and remembered impressions of the central subject. When the voiceovers of those who knew best the people, places and times of examination blend with scrutinously selected imagery and soundtrack, our innate curiosity of story peaks. The quietly captivating documentary, Troublemakers, in reference to the pioneers of land art in 1960s America, assembles these intimate accounts to great advantage. Aside from a short introduction from the film’s maker, James Crump (2007’s terrific Black White + Gray), the genesis of a handful of fearless artists who literally broke new ground is told exclusively through the reflective viewpoints of their living contemporaries and those who have studied and admired their audacious works.

In honoring tone, these central ‘60s art world figures including artist Carl Andre, gallery icon Virginia Dwan and art historian Germano Celant shed light on the inspirations shaping the great land artists, primarily Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Walter De Maria. Tied in with ascriptions of the socio-political forces that motivated them to go against the grain, Troublemakers becomes a revelatory portrait of a truly transformative shift away from 20th century expressionism. The troublemakers were the daring few who shook up the art world status quo with the courage and reach of vision to explore the massive and endless landscapes of the southwestern United States in search of canvasses of grander scale and materials of greater substance. With beautiful interweaving of glorious overhead landscape shots and archival footage of the artists in these elements, one gets the feeling of being transported to this era of artistic rebellion. The suggestion is that the mass upheaval and universal unrest of the Vietnam War era demanded more of a response from the artist than what was contained in paintings and sculptures enclosed by galleries. Dwan, who emerged as the biggest curator of land art in its beginnings, offers the more basic view that the artists really just looked to break out of the confinement of the studio and become explorers of wide open spaces. In these vast spaces and in interaction with awesome formations of earth, they found purpose.

Augmenting the interest stimulated by these precious insights is the exposition of figures that the casual art enthusiast may not recognize. As altering as it may have been, land art was not a sweeping movement in the history of visual and experiential art. These renegades were on the fringe and the film succeeds in bringing deserved attention to the magnitude and significance of their creations. A debt of gratitude is owed to Crump, who clearly chose the right people to interview and asked the right questions prompting responses that brought these complex figures back to life, drawing a window to their public stances, convictions and faintly, their souls. Add to this the caringly compiled archival video footage from that time, with that grainy, projector quality look that spellbinds the retrophiliac, and parallels to Dog Town and Z-Boys, another documentary to bring due recognition to pioneers of an art form, can be found. Troublemakers is a small treasure about a grand pursuit and is a must view for art and film lovers.

Author rating: 8/10

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