Robert Smithson


In LA for a week, we went to see the Robert Smithson exhibition at MOCA. Smithson is best known for his Spiral Jetty, a fantastic Earthwork on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, underwater for much of the time since its creation in the early 70s (just before Smithson’s early death in 1973 at 35), but recently uncovered in a somewhat new form as the lake’s water level falls (future PhD thesis: climate change and its relationship to art!). (And Amerindie college-rock enthusiasts will remember a band called ‘Spiral Jetty’ from the late 80s.)

Despite his early death (his career lasted about ten years), and despite my lack of any art-crit credentials, I would like to make a pitch for Smithson as the most important of the post-post-war American artists of the 20th Century. He was a theorist as much as practitioner, he understood the overlap between art, commerce, and society, and, let’s not forget, he made some beautiful things, over a wide range of genres and media. His photographs of mirrors (a recurring motif/object throughout his work) laid on the ground in Central America, or New Jersey, like much of his work, reminds us of the differences and commonalities of place and land, and the effect we can have on it.

Smithson has also been memorialized recently in Mike Nelson’s fantastic, but now-closed Triple Bluff Canyon at Modern Art Oxford (Oxford, UK). Nelson, a young, British Artist (not sure if he’s officially a “Young British Artist”) creates entire environments to be explored by the viewers; this one, among references to entropy, conspiracy theories, much else, contained a reconstruction of Smithson’s “Partially Covered Woodshed” which he created for Kent State University in the early 70s.