Andy Goldsworthy became famous, and comfortably wealthy, with works of art that don't make it till sundown. From the late 1970s, the Scottish land-artist has worked with stone, wood, reeds, flowers, sand and mud, arranging small patterns, pinning leaves into spectral chains with thorns, wrapping stones in feathers and putting them beside the sea. After a visit to the Arctic in the late 80s, Goldsworthy experimented with snow and ice. Thus perhaps his greatest coup: thirteen large snowballs from the Scottish Highlands left to melt beside London's high streets and tube stations on Midsummer's Day, 2000. As they melted, bucolic debris packed inside - wool, crow feathers, branches, Scots pinecones, elderberries - rolled out onto the concrete. These melancholic acts don't disappear entirely, of course. They're documented and preserved, and sold, through Goldsworthy's photography.
It might be a product of newfound maturity (approaching a fiftieth birthday), but Goldsworthy's recent work has been more solid, and less private than usual. Against the prevailing image, he's been shipping boulders from Scotland to America, hiring big teams of professional dry stone wall builders, and talking of heavy machinery tracks as if they were part of his finished works. In his largest American exhibition to date, a series of freestanding arches now showing at Michigan's Frederik Meijer Gardens, Goldsworthy is clearly thinking about the possibility of permanence - for himself, for his art, for human memory - embodied by the stone monument.
But Goldsworthy's new preference for stone isn't really such a leap from his breeze-blown miniatures. These aren't epic works like those of the American land-art school, whose greatest statement is James Turrell's transformation of a volcanic crater into a colosseum for the stars - a work still in progress. While the Americans take inspiration from the Aztecs, Goldsworthy, and fellow British land-artist Richard Long, take after the country tours and jaunts of Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Goldsworthy's stones, therefore, appear as monuments to a walk: boundary markers that plot a way through the land. Weaving around and beneath trees and rivulets, sometimes concealed, they follow the imprints of old trails and farming patterns. The dry, vulnerable stacks of sandstone and slate are built with the traditional materials and techniques Goldsworthy began to learn as a young farmhand. The Cumbrian Sheepfolds project (1996-2003) was an opportunity to hone these skills in a county-wide public art commission that worked to reconstruct 46 collapsed or long-gone sheepfolds, and to incorporate small sculptural additions within each. The Sheepfolds, some of which lie along Coleridge's favourite path around the Lake District, revive and translate the history of their small sites. From one, a sapling grows from the rock; a cairn, or marker stone, is placed in the centre of another; a tiny fissure in another marks the sections built before and after the millennium.
But, as Goldsworthy insists, it's only when these stones topple into ruin - long after his strings of leaves and thorns wash away - that his work of art will truly be complete. +