Roden Crater belongs to a tradition of monumental structures that have been built by artists, rulers, and priests, ancient and modern. Above-ground observatories for specific celestial events include Maes Howe in Scotland (which predates the pyramids), Newgrange in Ireland, and Abu Simbal in Egypt. Remnants of ancient sites that resemble 'handmade volcanoes', large mounds with a depression at the summit, are also scattered around the world. These include Herodium near Jerusalem and Old Sarum in England. In the sixteenth century, the great astronomer Tycho Brahe pioneered 'naked eye observatories,' of which the eighteenth-century Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is perhaps the best example. Turrell studied and adapted essential features of the naked-eye observatory in his designs for Roden Crater, where the natural formation recalled these man-made precedents.
Turrell was among a group of American artists on the 1970s-including Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris, and Robert Smithson-who left the confines and conventions of urban museums and galleries for the expansive landscape of the American West. Looking to ancient traditions of art and architecture that engaged the physical universe on its own natural scale, this movement, known popularly as Land Art, explored fundamental relationships between earth and sky, and light, space, and time.
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