The Dia Art Foundation, which manages several major Land art works across the United States and Germany, is adding a new locale to this small constellation of site-specific projects. The organisation announced today that it will care for Depreciation (2018), a multilayered work by the artist Cameron Rowland that challenges, among others, ideas of property, ownership and value—issues that have increasingly concerned Dia amid contemporary conversations about settler colonialism, reparations, climate change and land extraction.
First presented in Rowland’s 2018 exhibition D37 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Depreciation concerns not simply a physical stretch of land, as is typical of Land art, but rather the legal status of land. Materially, the work consists of a set of documents that describes and defines the legal status of a property that Rowland purchased in 2018, on Edisto Island in South Carolina. Now overgrown, the one-acre plot carries histories of enslavement and dispossession: it was part of a plantation included in lands that the federal government ordered for redistribution, in 1865, to formerly enslaved people—what soon became the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule”. In 1866, after president Andrew Johnson rescinded the order, the plantation was repossessed by former Confederate owners.
When Rowland purchased the property, the artist placed a restrictive covenant on its use to prevent any future development of the land; its appraised value is now $0. The paperwork detailing this is intended for exhibition, and will be on view at Dia Chelsea later this month. However, the property itself is not intended for visitation.
“What I find really provocative and productive about this work is that it poses the question as to where the work itself exists,” says Jordan Carter, a curator at Dia. “That troubling of those notions of visitation, and where the artwork experience is, is an exciting and generative aspect of such a radical proposition. It calls into question the way in which we position ourselves in relation to these artworks.”
Depreciation, notably, is not an acquisition, nor is it rented to Dia, as Rowland often chooses to transfer their work to collecting parties. Rather, Dia will jointly steward it with a nonprofit run by the artist, 8060 Maxie Road, named for the address of the property. That means the institution will maintain the property—namely, covering associated fees and expenses—and store, exhibit and lend the components of the work intended for exhibition. This particular contract is intended to conserve the work’s nontransactional underpinnings, which wrestle with ideas fundamental to Rowland’s practice: the circulation of things deemed capital, conditions of ownership and the pervasive system of racial capitalism itself.
“The work challenges the regime of property—not only technically in the terms of the status of the land, but also symbolically at the level of art,” says Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, associate curator at Dia.
Dia’s decision to co-steward Depreciation also marks an uncommon move for the foundation, which oversees only eight other site-specific works. Rowland’s piece represents the first new site that Dia has announced since 2018, when it acquired Sun Tunnels (1973-76) by Nancy Holt—its first piece of Land art by a woman. Before that, Dia had not announced a new site since the 1999 gift of Spiral Jetty from Robert Smithson’s estate.
Contextualising Depreciation as a Dia site raises critical questions, in particular around land rights, control and art tourism. “What does it make us see of the sites that Dia has maintained over the past 50 years?” says Matilde Guidelli-Guidi. Dia owns certain artworks, but not the land they sit on, as in the case of Spiral Jetty; works like Sun Tunnels and Max Neuhaus’s Times Square (1977) are maintained in collaboration with other organisations. “We’re thinking around how we can open these conversations up even further with Indigenous partners and communities,” Carter says. “We want to share agency as we think on how to steward these sites.”
Dia is also developing a new commission with Rowland, who has been exploring its archives and history of real-estate transactions. “It is an extension of his ongoing investigations into property and new modes of thinking through reparations,” Carter says. The project will premiere at Dia Beacon in spring 2024.