In 1965, Alan Sonfist began planning this work, which wouldn't be installed (or rather, planted) for another thirteen years. The project involved planting a variety of plant species that had been indigenous to the New York City area in pre-colonial times, on a 25 by 40 foot rectangular plot of land belonging to the Department of Transportation, at the corner of La Guardia Place and West Houston Street in Manhattan. Sonfist explained, "As in war monuments that record the life and death of soldiers, the life and death of natural phenomena such as rivers, springs, and natural outcroppings need to be remembered."
As in many of his Land Art projects, Sonfist began Time Landscape by undertaking extensive research on New York's regional botany, geology, and history, and he designed the artwork to grow and evolve naturally, making Mother Nature a co-collaborator in his work.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation explains, "When it was first planted, Time Landscape portrayed the three stages of forest growth from grasses to saplings to grown trees. The southern part of the plot represented the youngest stage and now has birch trees and beaked hazelnut shrubs, with a layer of wildflowers beneath. The center features a small grove of beech trees (grown from saplings transplanted from Sonfist's favorite childhood park in the Bronx) and woodland with red cedar, black cherry, and witch hazel above groundcover of mugwort, Virginia creeper, aster, pokeweed, and milkweed. The northern area is mature woodland dominated by oaks, with scattered white ash and American elm trees. Among the numerous other species in this miniforest are oak, sassafras, sweetgum, and tulip trees, arrowwood and dogwood shrubs, bindweed and catbrier vines, and violets."
Curator Todd Alden says of the work, "Neither a park nor a wilderness preserve, Sonfist's unusual hybrid combining both backward and forward-looking registrations radically re-conceived not only the idea of what a public monument might be (as a means of historical commemoration), but it also proposed nothing less than a re-formulated possibility frontier for art itself, including also man's historical (and future) relationship to nature."
Moving into the second half of the twentieth century, many artists began to focus on the contemporary dilemmas associated with environmental destruction, a problem that was increasingly being seen as having potential to affect the global population. In response to growing ecological concerns, land artists opted to create site-specific works that would not only highlight the threat of these issues, but that also employed carefully selected sites and natural (often living) materials as opposed to merely installing unnatural man-made constructions into public spaces. Many of these artists, like Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, and Robert Smithson tended to execute Land Art projects in remote locations like deserts and dried-up lakes.
On the other hand, Sonfist chose to bring Land Art to densely populated urban environments, highlighting the importance of preserving nature within city centers. He explains, "My feeling is that if we are going to live within a city, we have to create an understanding of the land. And that includes suburban dwellers as well. We have to come to a better understanding of who we are and how we exist on the planet."