In 1970, two discrete events helped define what would become known as “land art.” Michael Heizer, who had fled the East Coast for the ascetic rigor of the Nevada desert, had a New York gallery show featuring images of “Double Negative,” a pair of 50-foot-deep, dynamited and bulldozed trenches on a remote mesa near Las Vegas. Later that year, Artforum featured another monumental work, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” an “immobile cyclone” of boulders jutting out from a desolate coast of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

As Suzaan Boettger writes in her definitive history, “Earthworks,” the art presented a curious dynamic. Built far from the white boxes of the New York art world, it could only be easily experienced (and validated as art) through the galleries themselves and the mediated form of photography. This could be powerful in itself: Gianfranco Gorgoni’s famous photographs of the “Spiral Jetty” in Artforum essentially were the “Spiral Jetty” for most people.

But there was another option: See the work.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.