Read It: Art and Place

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New book is an indispensable resource for those interested in site-specific art in the Americas.

One of my first memories of site-specific art was the untitled Picasso on display in Chicago’s Daley Plaza. While the busy streets and skyscrapers told me I was in Chicago, I didn’t feel the familiarity of my home city until I saw that sculpture. If it were ever relocated to a different city or even the nearby Art Institute of Chicago, it’d still be a Picasso, but much of what makes it so special to me and Chicagoans would be lost. In other words, it’s a piece that’s equally defined by its location as its creator.

It’s with that idea in mind that Phaidon has recently published Art & Place, a fantastic and comprehensive survey of site-specific art in the Americas. Over the course of 373 geographically-categorized pages and 800 color photos, the book is a virtual tour of more than 170 site-specific art works across North, Central, and South America. “Art made for a specific place can be the most spectacular, uplifting, and exciting art you can ever experience,” said Amanda Renshaw, editor of the book, a press release. “The format aims to bring some of the most extraordinary examples to life and enable most of us to visit these amazing places from home.”

While many of the works profiled are murals, sculptures, or elaborately decorated churches—all traditional forms of public art—the book excels at profiling land art and ancient works that may be unfamiliar to the general public. Full-color photographs and in-depth profiles of works like Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (pictured above) entice the reader to figure out how they might be able to swing by some of these remote, yet profoundly interesting works of art that incorporate the unique landscapes of their locations.

The book’s presentation of the artistic expressions left behind by ancient cultures is also beautifully handled by the editors. As each section is organized chronologically by region, one can easily see how the earliest traditions influenced the next, and how later works reflected both the old traditions and the new influence of outside forces.  

Art & Place will be recognized as an indispensable resource, not just for its encyclopedic cataloging of site-specific art, but for the way it illustrates the visionary work of artists who use the earth as their canvas, as well as those who use public art to critique and enhance modern humanity.

Middle photo by focus c / bottom photo by Retis; both photos licensed under Creative Commons

Christian Williams is Editor in Chief of Utne Reader; contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @cwwilliams. He also paints and makes music. View and listen to his work at

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