British artist Andy Goldsworthy has gained acclaim over the past four decades for an ongoing practice of creating ephemeral works in nature that often last only as long as they take to complete—imagine an intricate arrangement of bright red poppy petals down a stone staircase in rural Spain, or an ice sculpture that will melt before morning’s end. He’s also well known for elaborate, site-specific projects that make use of materials gathered from the surrounding environment.
Encountering such installations is a sensory experience that has little in common with the way most people usually view art. Instead of the strained hush of a museum, there’s the song of a tree swallow, and maybe the brief slicing sound of a distant cyclist whizzing by. The fresh air carries a fragrance of damp soil and leaves. The sunlight operates outside of curator control, and there is no rule against flash photography—or against stepping up onto the installation itself to walk the length with arms stretched wide. Maybe it isn’t the defining moment for every art pilgrim, but it is exactly the kind of moment many travelers seek.
The lessons we can draw from Goldsworthy’s meticulously prepared yet intuitive art process translate easily to the art of travel. The projects remind us to arrive at new destinations with the sensitivity and self-awareness to let a place and its culture guide us, rather than relying solely on our own agendas. We recognize the beauty of ephemeral moments, accepting and even celebrating the way that time can erode our tangible travel experiences while leaving us with profound permanent impressions.
Dozens of his commissioned pieces are accessible to the public at sites across the United States and Europe, as well as in Brazil and Australia. The closest thing to a master list might be the 55 pieces that are discussed in his 2017 book, Andy Goldsworthy: Projects, including some featured in the 2018 documentary film Leaning Into the Wind. Here are several Andy Goldsworthy projects that you can visit now.
The Presidio, San Francisco, CA
Along a three-mile hiking loop in San Francisco’s Presidio, a national park site featuring 300 acres of hilly forest and views of the Golden Gate Bridge, there are four points where visitors can encounter Goldsworthy’s nature-based artworks.
Wood Line, pictured at top and the largest and most experiential of the four, zigzags over a gap in the forest floor for nearly a quarter mile. It is constructed from felled eucalyptus trees that the artist salvaged from within the park and canopied by live branches from the surrounding grove.
Spire, a 100-foot-tall pointed bundle of trunks from felled Monterey cypress trees, can be spotted from a distance. But to see it in full, visitors need to enter the thickening forest and walk the perimeter of its wide base. Standing for 10 years now, the sculpture has begun to fulfill the artist’s prophecy that it will eventually be “engulfed” by the surrounding cypresses that were planted after its construction.
Alps de Haute-Provence, France
Years in the making, this work is an immersive travel experience in itself. Goldsworthy constructed three large-scale stone cairns (which he calls Sentinels) and then spaced them out over a 100-mile rural hiking circuit in France’s Haute-Provence region. The official suggestion is to hike the route over 10 days, taking in the Sentinels as they occur throughout the protected geological reserve. Goldsworthy also restored ancient shelters along the trail so that those making the trek may find overnight refuge and appreciate the unique sculpture works he has installed inside.
Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York City
In this permanent outdoor installation at the museum in Battery Park City, dwarf oak trees that were planted by Goldsworthy, Holocaust survivors, and their families spring up improbably from inside of boulders. The trees, and thus the work, change with the seasons, speaking to the human capacity for regrowth out of seemingly impossible circumstances, as well as to the way that the passage of time affects both people and nature.
Guernsey, English Channel Islands
Deeply researched and meticulously constructed, the project consists of 11 three-ton boulders placed along the nearly 10-mile perimeter of the island. Crafted from a mixture of local earth and materials gathered from around the island—both natural (berries) and man-made (discarded gloves)—the Alderney Stones are intended to erode over time, revealing the elements that bound them together.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Constructed inside of a crumbling brick building near the port of Rio, this large clay dome (as the title itself translates) serves to create a visual dialog between the massive city and its origin in the surrounding land. Over an intricate wooden frame, Goldsworthy used a local clay mixture integrated with human hair for the dome’s surface, which with time has cracked into an extraordinary geometric pattern. Eventually the cracks will give way to the dome’s ultimate undoing, a process that the artist both anticipated and intended when it was created in 2012.