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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2004 Issue

Art, Archaeology, and Landscape
Sculptures from nature at the La Brea Tar Pits.†
By Kim Sorvig

Art, Archaeology, and Landscape George Erml, Courtesy S. Tobin

Artist Steve Tobin has exhibited his sculptures in some strange places. Galleries, sure; art museums, of course. But Tobin, whose artistic goal is to reveal "the overlooked and underappreciated patterns of nature," has also put massive artworks into a baroque Belgian chapel, a huge Finnish cave, and landscapes such as New York Cityís Teddy Roosevelt Park and the village green in Mount Desert, Maine.

Tobinís work has probably never had a stranger or more fitting venue, however, than the landscape that is its most recent setting: the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Asphalt oozes into lawns, and methane bubbles up through a tarry lake in which a full-size fiberglass mammoth eternally sinks. For an artist whose work often resembles vast fossils or the results of geologic processes, the tar pits are a perfect setting.

The show is sponsored by the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, known for its remarkable collection of fossil bones—dire wolves, sabertooth cats, giant sloths—as well as less-obvious finds like plant pollen and insect remains. This natural history museumís first-ever art show showcases Tobinís work in the tar pit landscape, itself an unusual confluence of art, archaeology, and landscape that Los Angeles knows as Hancock Park (see "Hancock Parkís Complex and Evolving Landscape," page 34). For landscape architects, both Tobinís art and the tar pits pose important questions: How do design and art relate to dynamic natural forces, to the sciences, and to the built environment?

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