Andy Goldsworthy: Walking Wall

“Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather — rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm — is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings, and the way it sits tells how it came to be there.” — Andy Goldsworthy, 2005

The Artist and his Practice

Born in Cheshire, England, artist Andy Goldsworthy has lived in Scotland since 1985. He has always been tied to the land, working as a farm laborer in his youth, and in his art, drawn to the beauty, rhythms and light of changing landscapes. Producing in many media, including sculpture, photography and video, Goldsworthy explores the permanent, ephemeral and transient character of nature. Material plays a central role in all his sculptures, whether it is a bright orange maple leaf, a shard of ice, snow, a passing rainstorm, slate or limestone. Light, and its shifts and fluctuations, enhance the experience.

In Kansas City, Goldsworthy’s Walking Wall is a sculpture and a performance. It is both simple and complex. For the project, 150 tons of stone will be physically moved over the landscape by hand by stone masons during a period of nine months. In five installments, each about 100 yards long and four feet tall, Walking Wall will move from east of the museum to its final resting place inside and outside the Bloch Building lenses. For visitors to the Nelson-Atkins, the experience of the wall and the wall itself will change as stones are carried from one location to another, or as a cloud passes over, a sunbeam highlights, or snow or rain activates what seems motionless and permanent. Goldsworthy and his art makes us question permanence and look for subtleties of change and transformation. It also invites repeated visits at different times of the year, day or weather conditions.

The Wall and its Material

Goldsworthy has been intrigued and worked with the form of the wall for decades. One of his largest public installations to date, the iconic Storm King Wall, a 2,278-foot wall, snakes through the Storm King Art Center in New York (1997–1998). Walking Wall will fulfill Goldsworthy’s long-held vision of creating a wall that inches its way through a place. Every day of its construction, and during periods of rest, the wall will change, through shifting light, stages of completion and its interaction with the landscape and community.

Throughout his career, Goldsworthy has been affected by location and material; they are the inspirations and motivations of his work. When he first visited Kansas City for this project, in late 2017, Goldsworthy was struck by the limestone walls that demarcated the neighborhoods and parks of the city as well as the Nelson-Atkins campus. Goldsworthy knew of the character and beauty of Kansas limestone, from an earlier project in Wichita. For Walking Wall, Goldsworthy sought limestone that would both connect with the city’s historical walls, and also distinguish itself as a contemporary work of art. For the stone, he traveled to the famed Flint Hills in Kansas to source a mixture of weathered stone and freshly quarried stone. The drystone walls are meticulously built by skilled masons — Scottish and American — using different sizes of stone without any mortar to bind them together. These walls are stable because of their unique construction method and carefully selected interlocking stones.

Walls have been built from ancient times to the present. Some walls, like the Great Wall of China, were built as defensive fortifications or to create boundaries between individual property, countries, states and countries; others, smaller, were used to mark fields where sheep and cattle grazed. Walls are built from a great variety of materials: sand, stone, wood, metal, even glass; and some are permanent, others are temporary. Some wall building is more labor-intensive than others, with the drystone walls demanding tremendous skill, the right materials and perseverance. Yet, they endure.

The Poetry

Goldsworthy’s artistic concept for the Nelson-Atkins project is expressed by a poem called Wall by the late Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson (1914-1987) since Goldsworthy constructed his first wall in Cumbria, England, in 1990. This famed wall became known locally as the “Wall that went for a walk” —
a reference to Nicholson’s poem which reads, in part:

A wall walks slowly,
At each give of the ground,
Each creak of the rock’s ribs,
It puts its foot gingerly,
Arches its hog-holes,
Lets cobble and knee-joint
Settle and grip.
As the slipping fellside
Erodes and drifts,
The wall shifts with it,
Is always on the move.

They built a wall slowly,
A day a week;
Built it to stand.
But not stand still.
They built a wall to walk.

–Catherine Futter, Director, Curatorial Affairs 

About The Author: Contributing Writer

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