Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America

  • Scott and Helen Nearing at Forest Farm, Harborside, Maine, October 1982. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Dome Village, Los Angeles, California, August 1994. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Old Economy, Ambridge, Pennsylvania, August 1995. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Ruins of Drop City, Trinidad, Colorado, August 1995. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Oneida Community Mansion House, Oneida, New York, August 1996. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Roofless Church, New Harmony, Indiana, May 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Daily Menu, Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona, July 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Paolo Soleri at Arcosanti, Cordes Junction, Arizona, August 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • The Farm, Summertown, Tennessee, March 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Dacha/Staff Building, Gesundheit! Institute, Hillsboro, West Virginia, April 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS), Yogaville, Buckingham, Virginia, April 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Lost Valley Education Center, Dexter, Oregon, April 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Sirius Community during a break in a Paths of Awakening weekend retreat with Mirabai Devi, Shutesbury, Massachusetts, April 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Jyoti Kori‑Bhatt and Seth Williams at Appel Farm Restoration Project, a commune in formation, with Huw “Piper” Wiliams, founder of Tolstoy Farm, Edwall, Washington, August 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • “Learning” by Jean Charlot, Camp Rockmount, Black Mountain, North Carolina, April 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Piedmont Biofuels, Pittsboro, North Carolina, April 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Garden Roof, City Hall, Chicago, May 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Mormon Temple, Nauvoo, Illinois, May 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Liz Christy Garden, Bowery and Houston Streets, New York City, June 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Roosevelt Public School, Roosevelt, New Jersey, June 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • New Elm Springs Colony, Ethan, South Dakota, July 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Surreal Estates, Sacramento, California, July 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • The General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California, January 1994. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • US Post Office, Seaside, Florida, December 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Queen of the Prom, the Range Nightclub, Slab City, California, March 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • An Earthship at Earthaven Ecovillage, Black Mountain, North Carolina, April 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Lake Tuendae, Zzyzx Springs, California, March 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain, Slab City, California, March 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
  • N Street Cohousing, Davis, California, March 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Materials: C-prints

Dimensions: 26 1⁄2 x 33 1⁄4 in. (67.3 x 84.4 cm) each

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

A pioneer of color photography at the time of its debut in the world of art in the 1970s, Joel Sternfeld is known for his in-depth meditations on uniquely American sites and stories. Sternfeld’s Sweet Earth is a series of photographs and accompanying texts that chronicle experimental utopias in the United States, in regions as diverse as California’s Mojave Desert, a roof garden in downtown Chicago, and the hills of Western Massachusetts, and from early American transcendentalist movements to more recent back-to-land endeavors.

Whether Sternfeld is examining a religious sect, a government assistance program, or an ecologically minded commune for nature-lovers, the tension between success and failure is a dominant theme across the series, as are the competing ideologies of individualism and collectivism. Possible responses to these tensions align with the many moods of Sternfeld’s photographs: irony, ecstasy, sadness, loneliness, controversy, and frequent abandon. Even so, there are shining moments when pragmatism prevails, and some good can be gleaned from these experiments. Even those communities that are now long gone (Black Mountain College in North Carolina, for instance, is now a Christian boys’ camp) can, thanks to Sternfeld’s keen eye, leave a lasting and irrevocable trace on our collective unconscious.

Audio

Co-curator Tina Kukielski on Joel Sternfeld [1 of 2]

Co-curator Tina Kukielski on Joel Sternfeld [2 of 2]

Co-curator Tina Kukielski on the placement of multiple artworks in the Hall of Sculpture

Hall of Sculpture