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Seeing Things is a biweekly design column by Brooke Hodge, a design writer and curator based in Los Angeles.
Last Saturday morning, the Los Angeles art community gathered to kick off the fall season. Artists, curators and collectors met — not in a gallery but on the lawn of a Pasadena, Calif., home — to witness the realization of a site-specific project by the artist Bruce Nauman.
When he was living in Pasadena in 1969, Nauman proposed a skywriting piece for an earth-art exhibition: a single plane would write “Leave the Land Alone” in the loops and arabesques of classic script. It was never executed, perhaps because it was too expensive, or maybe it wasn’t taken seriously.
That is, until the curator and writer Andrew Berardini came across Nauman’s proposal in a book of the artist’s collected writings. Berardini worked with Jay Belloli of Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, where they both serve as curators, to bring the four simple words to life in the sky above the Arroyo Seco, a scenic canyon and important watershed charged with history, not to mention environmental issues.
Forty years after Nauman committed his words to the page, five planes streaked across the sky spelling out Nauman’s message in the capital letters dictated by contemporary skywriting practice (which, like almost everything else, has gone digital). The capital letters lent the elegiac text an extra measure of assertiveness. Giving new meaning to the term “temporary installation,” the words vanished in minutes.
When Nauman first conceived of the project, it may have been targeted at “Land Art,” which was then in its ascendancy, but “Leave the Land Alone” was all the more resonant this fall, just two weeks after the massive Station Fire cut a vast swath of destruction through the nearby Angeles National Forest. Nauman’s skywriting project is one of a series of projects commissioned for the exhibition “Installations Inside/Out,” curated by Belloli and Sinead Finnerty-Pyne, to mark the Armory’s 20th anniversary.