No River Runs Through It: Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone River” at Stanford

By LIZ HAGER
goldsworthy-stone-river

Andy Goldsworthy, Stone River, 2002, 128 tons of sandstone, 320 feet (photo ©Andrew Alden)

An heir to the legacy of earthwork artists Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, Goldsworthy employs the materials of nature to create works that are all about the aesthetics of the natural world. Like Monet and his haystacks, Goldsworthy has returned to the Serpentine wall motif numerous times in an effort, like Monet I suppose, to uncover different “realities” in the form. “Stone River” has been fashioned from the sandstone blocks of buildings that toppled in the 1906/89 earthquakes. In his choice of materials, Goldsworthy has created a piece that compliments the dusty, arid field. The pattern created by the closely stacked blocks adds a pleasing tactile quality to site.   Goldsworthy has set the wall into a trench as if to emulate a riverbed. (Although it might be a dry one in this corner of the world.)  It’s a clever conceit that also serves to help the eyes follow the movement of the piece.   From a vantage point above the wall, one can plainly see both the pleasing undulation of the wall and the less pleasant slithering of a snake.

All of these elements conspire to push the piece from an architectural to a sculptural element. As a sculpture, it is beautifuly emblematic—one natural form (sandstone blocks) becomes another (a snake). Although not visible in the picture above, the wall has a “tail,” which descends into the earth. This provides a literal and metaphoric “grounding” for the piece, but it’s also a whimsical detail that keeps the work from becoming too self-consciously “artsy.”

The real point of the piece, I think, lies in Goldsworthy’s choice of material.  With these “building blocks” he has tapped into the powerful cycle of destruction and rebirth—the blocks, originally hewn by man from natural elements, will disintegrate over time.   Thus, the wall in its trench becomes an archeological site, reminding us that the human hand, though ever present in the landscape, emerges and submerges at the will of nature.

Wider Connections

Goldsworthy at Cass Sculpture Foundation

Venetian Red—“Mighty Impermanence in the Presidio—Andy Goldsworthy’s “Spire”

Storm King wall

Andy Goldsworthy in Smithsonian Magazine

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