In 2011 I attended the Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. I sat with the weight of the enormous exhibition catalog pressed against my knees and listened to an all-male panel of artists discussing the state of landscape photography and environmentalism. On the catalog’s cover was the image of a lone coyote howling at a bright light illuminating a parking lot, made by the photographer Amy Stein, who was nowhere to be found on the panel or otherwise at the conference. Female artists seemed entirely absent from the discussion.
The respected—and well-funded—artist-adventurers on the panel who stood as representatives of the genre epitomized the artist version of the popular concept of “the explorer.” They spoke in the traditional vernacular of “man versus nature,” “the hand of man,” and so on. During the brown-bag lunch that followed, my impatience turned to anger as I listened to a guest speaker share witty anecdotes about the Land Art movement of the early 1970s. He had been the airplane pilot for the Land Artists, among them legendary Michael Heizer, as they searched for isolated locations in the Nevada desert where they could make their work. Midway through his talk, this speaker defined the Land Art era as a time when “important art deals were made in local whorehouses.” I glanced around at the predominantly female audience that was listening politely and searched in vain for a sign that I was not alone in my disappointment.
With the last bite of my turkey sandwich sticking in my throat, I got up and walked out. As I left the museum and crossed the parking lot, I vowed to myself that I would seek out the female artists whom I had longed to hear from that day. Almost a year later, I sat with Amy Stein at her kitchen table in Queens, discussing her image Howl.
Excerpted from The New Explorers by Kris Timken