Introduction: The value of addressing contemporary eco art from an art historical perspective far exceeds constructing a list of influences and precedents. The history of this burgeoning art movement reveals a seismic shift in humanity’s relationship with the planet’s myriad living populations, substances, and conditions, awkwardly referred to as ‘nature’. Masterworks from across time and space provide evidence that nature provided the wellspring of metaphors, the standards of beauty, and the sources of wisdom that inspired them. Today, ‘nature’ is so beleaguered, it no longer seems capable of providing solace and insight.

However, today’s artists have not abandoned art making because the age-old source of inspiration has been corrupted. The resilience and ingenuity of the artists in this book demonstrate that nature’s role has shifted in response to its current jeopardy. Artists are joining the ranks of environmentally conscious people who, instead of ‘taking’ inspiration, are ’offering’ behavioral reforms and determined attempts at remediation. They are striving to restore nature’s material splendor, its teeming forms of life, and its mighty forces. Thus, while art movements, and aesthetic concepts, and strategies of art display, and conditions for art production comprise the content of the research and discussion topics that follow, interactions with non-human realms, as conveyed by eco artists, provide this section’s significant subtext.

Ant Farm

Ant Farm's artistic antics provide multiple entries into the history of art. 

Herbert Bayer

Herbert Bayer’s ability to design an entire system that beautifies the landscape as it rectifies its erosion and flooding problems has earned a secure place within the annals of art history.

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys did not create art only to express the ‘self’. His goal was to empower ‘others’.

Hans Haacke

Systems function as a structural common denominator that allows Haacke to move seamlessly between projects that exclude human interventions and those that include them.

Helen and Newton Harrison

Helen and Newton Harrison became eligible for inclusion in this narrative when, early in their careers, they eliminated paint and canvas in order to include actual trees, real dirt, and living fish as their art mediums.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser

One of Hundertwasser's pet peeves was the omnipresence of straight lines that dominate the built environment in industrialized societies.

Allan Kaprow

Kaprow coined the term 'Happening' to describe the 'un-cuteystuff' that took place on Segal's farm.

Frans Krajcberg

Krajcberg set an independent course by rejecting the art mediums, creative processes, and themes that defined these vanguard movements.

Mario Merz

Mario Merz may frustrate art historians whose expertise is measured according to their ability to identify an artist’s art historical genealogy.

Carolee Schneemann


Carolee Schneemann was among the artists who introduced photographic quandaries by staging ephemeral events and performances instead of creating enduring art objects.


    Bonnie Sherk

    When Bonnie Ora Sherk's Crossroads Community (The Farm), she helped inaugurate as version of an age-old artistic practice in which artists emulate their surroundings instead of interpreting them or responding to them emotionally.

    Alan Sonfist

    Although Alan Sonfist produces sculptures, photographs, collages, and drawings that conform to the art market protocols and commercial gallery requirements, many of his most acclaimed works challenge these systems.

    Mierle Laderman Ukeles

    Ukeles's art elevates the role of 'service' over 'creativity' and 'self-expression'.