Mary Miss @ theNate

An aerial view of Field Rotation, 1981, by Mary Miss (American, b. 1944), earth, wood, steel, water. Commissioned by the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park (NMSP), GSU Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Collection of the NMSP


One of the land artist’s monumental works is a short drive from Chicago at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park



The artist Mary Miss is one of a group of artists who came of age during the late 1970s and built careers on the idea of incorporating or creating elements of landscape for their sculptural compositions. One of Miss’s earlier signature installations is located on the campus of Governor’s State University at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park (theNate) in University Park, IL.

The work, titled Field Rotation (1980-81), mines a broad spectrum of art historical references while being a wholly original creation. The work is so large it can be fully appreciated only by viewing from the air, though it is also an adventure to explore while climbing on its ladders or running through its carefully spaced posts. It’s a work that also changes with each interaction as well as the seasons. 

At its center, a mound has been constructed with a sunken gravel garden in which a three-tiered set of platforms preside over moats which fill temporarily with rainwater. Steel ladders on the north and south walls grant access. Associations with cliff dwelling Native American Indians’ pueblo architecture can be made. Two steel towers inside provide counterpoint to the primarily wooden structure. The perimeter outline of the retreat is based on 18th century military European fortification plans.

Outside, 125 wooden poles – menhirs – radiate in eight lines, pinwheel fashion. The elevation of the tops of these poles is constant, highlighting and contrasting with the gentle slope of the Midwestern landscape. A steel tower asserts modernity.




At the end of 2023 another significant work by Mary Miss, Greenwood Pond: Double Site, installed at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, made national headlines when it was revealed that the work had long been deteriorating and had reached such a state that it was estimated it would cost the Art Center $2 million to repair it. An open letter from DMAC Director Kelly Baum shared that despite fundraising campaigns over the years and studies commissioned to examine the stability and safety of the piece, the work has been battered by the environment. “Age and climate have finally won” Baum wrote, “Reasonable maintenance is no longer sufficient.” DMAC stated they will partner with the City of Des Moines to safely dismantle Greenwood Pond: Double Site, beginning with the most hazardous areas, and to restore the impacted section of Greenwood Park. 


The artist Mary Miss


That works like those created and installed by Miss require significant maintenance and funds over the long term is not a surprise. The staff at theNate is paying very close attention to Field Rotation in order to responsibly preserve the work so that it is not ravaged by Midwestern winters. Jeff Stevenson of theNate shared that the sculpture park is about to embark on a campaign to raise $150,000 for the conservation costs that needs to be addressed, and fans of the installation are aiming to call attention to the urgency of protecting Field Rotation. Venture to see Field Rotation for yourself and spend some time considering its various vantage points as well as the characteristics of each corner and post. The quick escape from the city into a swirling field is a little bit of a shock to the system, but it’s a healing one that is guided by an artist’s hand. Nothing lasts forever, but important works of art and architecture that exist in our midst are worth appreciating and preserving for current as well as future generations. 



In April 2024 Mary Miss filed a lawsuit to stop the dismantling of the work at the DMAC, claiming that the Greenwood Pond: Double Site's planned demolition violates the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 – an act that empowers artists to legally defend and protect their own "recognized stature" works art from destruction. Miss's suit also claims that DMAC violated its contract with her by failing to properly protect and preserve the work.

• On May 3, 2024 it was announced that in a response to the lawsuit federal court issued a preliminary injunction to stop the order to dismantle Greenwood Pond: Double Site at the Des Moines Art Center.

A Land Artist’s Work Evades Demolition via NYT


A view into the inner sanctum of Field Rotation. Photo by CGN. 


The CGN interns on a field trip a few years ago; Photo by CGN. 



Governors State University 

1 University Parkway University Park, IL 60484