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Of the big names in British land art, Richard Long’s is most frequently displayed in U.S. museums. Andy Goldsworthy’s is most likely to turn up on our coffee tables. Born a decade after his betters, the Penpont, Scotland-based artist knows how to milk the public appeal of his evanescent outdoor sculptures, filling his popular photo books with documentation of natural-born pieces whose hues look too intense for nature. Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time is German documentarian Thomas Riedelsheimer’s sympathetic, TV-ready portrait of a man whose undeniably deep connection to the landscape is betrayed by the flimsiness of his formal language. Tracking Goldsworthy for a year as he executes projects at home and in France, Nova Scotia, and upstate New York, the film squanders what little sympathy it builds for its subject on his puzzle-headed musings. The artist’s more clueless works blaze us a short-cut to exasperation. When he gathers ironstone from a riverbed, crushes it, cups the powder into a ball and hurls it into the water, which then reddens alarmingly, he fails to grasp that the most obvious metaphor is mining, which befouls the earth by concentrating its resources. And Goldsworthy hits his nadir when he chooses to memorialize his sister-in-law with a big ol’ mossy pussy he builds between the roots of a tree and envisions as a portal between this world and the next. Nonetheless, a lot of peoplemany of them from San Francisco, where Rivers and Tides was a festival smashgo for Goldsworthy. He’ll find his audience here, too. Those who consider the National Museum of Women in the Art’s recent Judy Chicago retrospective a womynly triumph instead of a curatorial embarrassmentnot to mention those who regard The Vagina Monologues as timely instead of hopelessly retardatairewill open their hearts to this sensitive New Age guy who counts on the love of those who aren’t really lovers of art. The rest of us can take comfort in the inevitable workings of the environment. When I consider the built-in fatedness of a work such as Dennis Oppenheim’s Annual Rings, in which the artist inscribed concentric circles in the snow at the U.S.-Canada border, I
can’t help but mourn a little. But after
90 minutes with Riedelsheimer’s dreamy garden gnome, I find I can’t wait for that bitch-goddess Nature to efface every heartfelt manifestation of the serpentine scrawl that is Goldsworthy’s kitsch colophon. Glenn Dixon