Quantock Wood Circle (1981) by Richard Long is a floor sculpture consisting of 285 weathered and broken pine branches collected by the artist from the Quantock Hills in Somerset, near his hometown of Bristol, England. Following the artist’s instructions, the sticks are placed in any combination in a circle on the floor, rendering each display unique. Since the 1960s, Long has created ephemeral artworks based upon his walks in the English countryside and abroad. Often embedded in the landscape, these site-specific works blur the boundaries between sculpture, photography, and performance. In Quantock Wood Circle, materials collected while walking are brought into the museum, activating the floor and raising questions about our relationship with space, place, and nature.
The installation of this sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) will be marked by a symposium, Works on the Floor. The removal of sculpture from the plinth was a defining moment in postwar Western art, allowing for a more direct encounter between object and viewer. British sculptor Anthony Caro (Long’s tutor) pioneered this approach in the early 1960s, creating welded-steel objects that extend from the floor into the viewer’s space. Equally radical was the decision of subsequent generations of sculptors, including Long, to lay sculpture flat on the floor, a move that redefined the relationship between subject and object by giving the viewer an omniscient viewpoint from above.
With its material connection to the English natural landscape, Quantock Wood Circle and its installation at the YCBA provoke questions about the piece’s relationship with Britain as a geographic landmass and a nation. The Works on the Floor symposium will look at floor sculpture by artists from around the world, investigating how land- and place-based identity play out through the materials, composition, and display of the objects. Moving away from the literalism associated with Minimalist floorwork, we ask: How does the orientation of artwork toward the ground afford possibilities for exploring national and place-based identity? What might we gain by discussing these works alongside one another? In considering these questions, we hope to reframe, and better understand, the conceptual decision to place works on the floor.
Schedule forthcoming. Please check back soon.