Troublemakers unearths the history of land art in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s. The film features a cadre of renegade New York artists that sought to transcend the limitations of painting and sculpture by producing earthworks on a monumental scale in the desolate desert spaces of the American southwest. Today these works remain impressive not only for the sheer audacity of their makers but also for their out-sized ambitions to break free from traditional norms. The film casts these artists in a heroic light, which is exactly how they saw themselves. Iconoclasts who changed the landscape of art forever, these revolutionary, antagonistic creatives risked their careers on radical artistic change and experimentation, and took on the establishment to produce art on their own terms. The film includes rare footage and interviews which unveil the enigmatic lives and careers of storied artists Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), Walter De Maria (The Lightning Field) and Michael Heizer (Double Negative); a headstrong troika that established the genre. As the film makes clear, in making works that can never be possessed as an object in a gallery, these troublemakers stand in marked contrast to the hyper-speculative contemporary art world of today.
Troublemakers points out that land art was rife with contradiction and conflict, a site where architecture, landscape, sculpture, technology, archaeology and photography would all converge. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Cold War anxieties and other political uncertainties of the nuclear age, land artists often subscribed to a dystopian view of the future that questioned the military-industrial complex, consumerism and the banalities of modern life and culture.