Robert Smithson remains one of the most influential and original artists of modern times who has had a major impact on artists of his generation, and continues to do so today. Smithson’s provocative works, made in the mid-sixties to early seventies, redefined the language of sculpture. He was one of the founders of the art form known as earthworks or land art, and is most well known for the Spiral Jetty, 1970, located in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. This monumental earthwork was inspired in part when Smithson saw the Great Serpent Mound, a Pre-Columbian Indian monument in southwestern Ohio.
The earthworks were a radical departure from making formal objects situated in a gallery setting. The Spiral Jetty embodied one of his goals which was to place work in the land rather than situated on the land. Smithson’s earthworks defined an entirely original notion of landscape art. Dissatisfied with the art of this time, Smithson did not limit himself to any one form or style of art. He moved beyond modernism by abandoning rules and traditional art materials.
Smithson defied convention and produced works that could not be easily categorized. He used non-traditional art materials such as language, mirrors, maps, dump trucks, abandoned quarries, hotels, contractors, and earth to produce his radical sculptures, photographs, films, and earthworks. PARTIALLY BURIED WOODSHED Kent State University, Kent, Ohio Jan, 1970 one woodshed and twenty truckloads of earth; 18’6″ x 10’2″ x 45′ Smithson explored ideas involving decay and renewal, chaos and order with his Earthworks.
He spoke at great length in interviews and essays on decay and his notion of time. Partially Buried Woodshed, 1970, Kent State University, Kent State, was a piece Smithson created on site during an invitational arts festival. He located an abandoned woodshed and poured earth on to the structure until it cracked. This work is a prime example of Smithson’s personal ideas about the importance of decay and time, leaving it to be “subject to weathering, which should be considered part of the piece”.
This quote is from a statement Smithson signed when he donated the work to Kent State University. Smithson developed a wide variety of photographic works – none of which dealt with traditional composition. One such work, Spiral Jetty Film Stills, 1970, is a three-paneled work of black and white images that were taken during the making of the Spiral Jetty. Other photographic works incorporated collage with text or maps. His photographs are both artwork and documentation and are not traditional images of the landscape in artistic terms.
In 1970 Smithson moved his work outside of the gallery walls to concentrate entirely on earthworks such as the Spiral Jetty, Partially Buried Woodshed and Amarillo Ramp. At this time a small group of artists were rethinking their ideas about art in relationship to the land. These endeavors in the land helped Smithson to explore chaos and order – how natural forces such as wind, rain, heat and cold, would affect the work over time. Nancy Holt, Smithson’s wife and an artist in her own right, has said of the Spiral Jetty… In its scale and ideas, this sculpture embodies the spirit of some of the great monuments of past civilizations yet it is wholly contemporary in concept and execution”. The earthworks enabled Smithson to express his ideas about art existing in the landscape, while simultaneously producing an art form that was non-commercial, existing outside of the traditional viewing spaces. It could not be owned or seen easily. The earthworks are known by most only through photographs. HOMEWORK TASK:
Complete a conceptual framework analysis on a work of your choice created by Robert Smithson. DO NOT select an artwork that features in this booklet. A good place to start is: www. robertsmithson. com/index_. htm This is the official website of the artist. Once you have selected your work use the Internet to locate further information about the work, you will need this to complete your conceptual framework. Use the conceptual framework on the following page to record your information. Print an image of the work with a full citation which can be glued into your artbook.
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