How long did it take Robert Morris to create Johnson Pit #30?
After an initial visit to the site in January of 1979, Morris submitted a sculptural design that April, proposing to clear the vegetation and build a hill-form using 16,000 cubic yards of earth carved into descending concentric slopes and terraces in the shape of an amphitheater. His artwork was completed in November of the same year and later restored in the 1990s and again in 2018.
What was the inspiration behind Johnson Pit #30?
Morris' design reclaimed the abandoned gravel pit for the sake of art, carving terraces into the triangular-shaped landscape like that of a Peruvian amphitheater. The slopes were planted in wild rye grass, but in general the design focused on form rather than on vegetation.
“I have employed a method of terracing which has been used in ancient times as well as the present,” Morris said while making the work. “Such a method has produced sites of such widely varying context and purpose as palaces and strip mines, highway embankments and mountainside cultivation. Persian and Mogul gardens were terraced as were the vast amphitheaters of Muyu-uray in Peru…this is a prototypical act in shaping the earth.”
Morris also argued that art carries environmental and societal responsibility and should challenge the viewer. He didn’t want to turn Johnson Pit #30 into a purely idyllic or reassuring destination and thereby redeem those who wasted the landscape in the first place. While he added the pleasing concentric terraces descending to the base of the pit, he also left a row of blackened tree stumps at the top. Morris called this gesture a “ghost forest” to signal the site’s history prior to becoming a gravel pit, a reminder of the cost of unchecked practices.
What exactly is an earthwork?
The Museum of Modern Art defines an earthwork as art that is made by shaping the land itself or by making forms in the land using natural materials. Earthworks range from subtle, temporary interventions in the landscape to significant, sculptural, lasting alterations made with heavy earth-moving machinery. Earthworks were part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
What are some other famous examples of an earthwork?
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) is one of the best-known monumental earthworks outside of Morris’ Johnson Pit #30. This way of working in and with the landscape forever changed notions of sculpture in contemporary art, removing it from the context of galleries and museums.
Previous earthwork projects by Robert Morris include his Earth Project (1968) in Evanston, Illinois; the Observatory Project in the Netherlands (1971); the Grant Rapids Project X in Michigan (1974); and his Steam Work for Bellingham Project (1971-1974) in the sculpture garden on the Western Washington University campus. In Observatorium (1977), Morris shaped a field in Lelystad, the Netherlands, into a primordial-looking circular form. He called the work a “modern Stonehenge.”
Other famous earthworks in King County include Lorna Jordan’s Waterworks Garden in Renton and Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks in Kent.