is the official website for information regarding the internationally
renowned American artist Robert Smithson. The Estate of Robert Smithson
is exclusively represented by James Cohan Gallery, New York (www.jamescohan.com).
This site was written and compiled by Elyse Goldberg (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Smithson is most well known for his provocative earthwork, the Spiral
Jetty, made in 1970. He gained international recognition
for his groundbreaking art which was not limited by genre or materials
as well as for his critical writings that challenged traditional categories
of art between the years of 1964-1973. His art and writings have had
a profound impact on sculpture and art theory for over thirty years.
Smithson's work continues to be exhibited in museums both nationally
and internationally (see
bibliography / biography
). He is featured prominently in major museum collections such as
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo (see
The site is intended to be educational, and is not a comprehensive
catalogue. Contained within is selection of work arranged chronologically
in categories, beginning in 1961 with his early collage and language
drawings, and moving into his emblematic works on paper, crystalline
structures, Nonsites, earthworks, photographs and films. A complete
biography of Smithson's exhibition history is posted as well as a
bibliography. The essay section is inclusive of writings by and about
Smithson, and features a selection of interviews conducted with the
artist. The site will be updated with forthcoming exhibitions and
events as they occur.
ABOUT ROBERT SMITHSON
"...the artist seeks.... the fiction that reality will sooner or
For over thirty years and at the onset of the 21st Century, Robert
Smithson remains one of the most influential and original artists
whose voice has had a major impact on artists of his generation, and
continues to do so today. His complex ideas took root in many forms:
drawings, projects and proposals, sculpture, earthworks, films and
critical writings. Smithson's provocative and seminal works, made
in the mid-sixties to early seventies, redefined the language of sculpture.
Robert Smithson from "A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art",
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. Dissatisfied with the status
quo, Smithson did not limit himself to any one form or style of art.
He moved beyond modernism's hermetic tendencies by abandoning formalism,
rules and traditional art materials. Smithson's oeuvre, as an artist
and writer, defied convention and produced works that could not be
easily categorized. He utilized 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.
Beginning in 1964, he emerged with minimal-like structures that veered
away from minimalism's closed systems. Robert Hobbs stated "Smithson
was not strictly a minimalist. He used the vocabulary of minimalism...
clean geometric forms, industrially fabricated parts, the look of
objectivity.. as a way of pointing out the weaknesses of systems and
networks," (Robert Smithson: Sculpture, Robert Hobbs, Cornell
University Press, 1981). One such work that exemplifies these early
investigations is Enantiamorphic Chambers,
a wall work that structurally has two identical chambers that incorporate
mirrors. Smithson has said of this piece "If art is about vision,
can it also be about non-vision...it's form is a bi-polar notion that
comes out of crystal structures...two separate things that relate
to each other. ...in Enantiamorphic
Chambers, there is...the indication of a kind of dialectical
thinking that would emerge later very strongly in the Nonsites."
Importantly, Smithson stated when interviewed by Paul Cummings that "Enantiamorphic
Chambers freed me from all these preoccupation's with history;
I was dealing with grids and planes..empty surfaces. The crystalline
forms suggested mapping".
Embodied in all of Smithson's endeavors was his interest in entropy,
mapping, paradox, language, landscape, popular culture, anthropology,
and natural history. This is evident in works he created such as Heap
of Language, King
Kong Meets the Gem of Egypt, Enantiamorphic
Chambers, A Nonsite
- Pine Barren's New Jersey, Yucatan
Mirror Displacements, Partially
Buried Woodshed, Asphalt
Rundown and Spiral
Entropy, was a theme that consistently ran throughout Smithson's art
and writings. He explored his ideas involving decay and renewal, chaos
and order with what came to be known as his Nonsites
and Earthworks. Smithson spoke
at great length in interviews and essays on entropy and his notion
of time. In Entropy and the
New Monuments he wrote "...the urban sprawl, and the infinite
number, of housing developments of the postwar boom have contributed
to the architecture of entropy" and that "entropy is a condition that
is moving toward a gradual equilibrium". 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 visualization
of entropy 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 significant body of work that engaged complexity
and oppositions: nature/culture (Aerial
Map-Proposal for Dallas - Fort Worth Airport), language as
material (Heap of Language),
space and time (Spiral Jetty Film),
monuments and the anti-monument (earthworks such as the Spiral
Jetty), displacement and landmark (Map
of Broken Glass, Atlantis). Mirrors were major elements in
Smithson's early structures and continued to play a major role in
his later Nonsites and Displacements,
begun in 1968. He said, "mirror in a sense is both the physical mirror
and the reflection" it is "a concept and abstraction"... a displacement
A Nonsite - Pine Barrens,
New Jersey, winter, was Smithson's first Nonsite. It was constructed
in 1968, in a remote area of southern New Jersey. On looking for sites
he stated "I began in a very primitive way;..started taking trips
in 1965; certain sites would appeal to me more--sites that had been
in some way disrupted...pulverized. I was really looking for a denaturalization
rather than built up scenic beauty...when you take a trip you need
precise data& I would often use quadrangle maps; mapping followed
traveling" (from Discussions with Heizer, Oppenheim, Smithson,
The Writings of Robert Smithson). Smithson's Nonsites were
radical in both idea and construction. The nonsite was map, a 'landmarker'.
These pieces were constructed primarily from natural materials he
chose from remote, unpopulated areas, or the ruins of collapsed buildings.
The materials from this site were brought into the gallery, placed
in constructed bins, with maps or situated within mirror formations.
The Nonsites, created a dialectic between the outdoors and indoors,
and were examples of Smithson's explorations into sight and its simile
- site, displacement and location. Literal and allegorical, the Nonsites
confounded the illusion of materiality and order. The mirrors functioned
to order and displace, to add and subtract, while the sediments, displaced
from its original site, blur distinctions between outdoors and indoors
as well as refer the viewer back to the site where the materials were
originally collected. Lawrence Alloway has stated in his essay Sites/Nonsites,
from the book The Writings of Robert Smithson, "the relation
of a Nonsite to the Site is also like that of language to the world:
it is a signifier and the Site is that which is signified".
Conceptually the Displacements differ from the Nonsites. Displacements
were works that incorporated mirrors or structures made from natural
elements temporarily sited in the land, such as Yucatan
Mirror Displacements, 1969, Mirror
Displacements (Brambles), England, 1969. These works were
never intended to be permanent pieces as Smithson had said in Fragments
of a Conversation , "I don't leave the mirrors there. I pick
them up. It's different from the site/nonsite...It's another level
of process that I'mexploring. A different level of containment".
Smithson developed a wide variety of photographic works - none of
which dealt with traditional composition or conventional image making.
One such work, Spiral Jetty Film Stills,
1970, is a three-paneled composite photowork of black and white images
that were taken during the making of the Spiral
Jetty. Other photographic works incorporated collage with
text or maps. Smithson also produced a unique body of photographs
that were based on his Displacement pieces called Slideworks,
the format of which is 35mm slide transparencies. These photographs
are simultaneously artwork and document and are not a formal rendering
of the landscape in traditional photographic terms. Like the materials
in the Nonsites, the images themselves become displacements. Oolite
Island, both 1971, Yucatan
Mirror Displacements 1-9, 1969 and Hotel
Palenque, 1969-72 are some examples of Smithson's Slideworks.
In 1970 Smithson moved his work outside of the gallery walls to concentrate
entirely on earthworks such as the Spiral
Buried Woodshed, Amarillo
Ramp. At this time a small group of artists were engaged in
reformulating their ideas of art in relationship to the land. These
endeavors in the land enabled Smithson to explore chaos and order-how
natural forces such as wind, rain, heat and cold, would effect 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 deal with his concerns regarding
art in the land, while simultaneously producing an artform that was
non-commercial, existing outside of the traditional viewing spaces.
It could not be owned or seen easily. The earthworks, with the exception
of Emmen Hill
/ Broken Circle,
which was constructed in a public area in Holland, are known by most
only through photographs. After Smithson's plane crashed while photographing
the site for Amarillo
Ramp, Philip Leider, who published Smithson's writings in
Artforum, stated that "Smithson died in the midst of a meditation
on nature and art as original as any since Cezanne".
The rich legacy of Smithson's contributions as a writer and artist
remains an unending source of inspiration. Lawrence Alloway notes
in his essay Site/Nonsite, 1981, that when Smithson wrote A
Sedimentation of the Mind, he (Smithson) "explicitly aligns geological
change with the process of thought....landscape, then becomes analogous
to the human condition or at least of our communications" and that
Smithson in his writings and in his work "acknowledged complexity
and contradiction as a working condition".
Smithson's influence on future generations is unquestioned, as is
evidenced by the number of continuing essays, new publications, and
numerous exhibitions both group and solo currently planned for the
Unless indicated otherwise all quotations from the artist were taken
from The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt,
New York University Press, 1979.
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Smithson was also a prodigious, witty and visionary writer. Smithson's
writing on land, western culture and the 'nature of objects' positioned
a new critique of art. His writings gave voice publicly to his art
and the art of his time. Smithson also used writing as an artform,
as is evidenced in Quasi Infinities and the Waning of Space
that appeared in Arts Magazine, November 1966. In
that essay language is utilized as image, and image functions as text/footnotes.
Smithson's infamous essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic,
published in Artforum, 1967, was his vision of contemporary
monuments - entropic ruins from the industrial landscape, factories,
bridges, sprawling metaphors of our social condition, whose pathologies
became urban detritus - and stood in opposition to the great pyramids
and other architectural wonders built to honor human endeavor.
His writings were published in the book The Writings of Robert
Smithson, published in 1979, by New York University Press and
in 1996 a revised and expanded edition was published by University
of California Press, Berkeley, California.
In November of 2000 a new publication of The Writings of Robert
Smithson will appear in German, edited by Eva Schmidt and Kai
Voeckler, published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig, Cologne.
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ABOUT THE SITE
This site is meant to be educational tool, and is not a comprehensive
catalogue of all of Smithson's artworks. Works posted date from 1961-1973.
The site is broken down into categories:Earthworks,
and Essays. The works are arranged
chronologically within each category.
Works selected for the site contains examples of Smithson's early
explorations with language (Heap
of Language), collage drawings (St.
John in the Desert), and sculptures that embodied a post beat
and pop art sensibility (Quick Millions)
as well as his more well known Drawings,
Detailed biographical and bibliographical materials are presented
here which are representative of Smithson's solo
and group exhibitions. The
books and catalogues,
films and public
In the category Essays, a selection
of Smithson's writings are posted as are interviews with the artist.
Additionally, the Essays section will consist of a assortment articles,
reviews, and writings on Smithson by various critics and scholars.
Upcoming exhibitions and events regarding the artist will be posted
as they occur.
For further information regarding Smithson's work, please contact
or write to Elyse Goldberg/James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street,
New York, New York, 10001. Tel: (212) 714 9500 Fax: (212) 714 9510
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SHORT LIST OF WORKS ONLINE
Aerial Map-Proposal for Dallas
- Fort Worth Regional Airport, 1967
A Nonsite, Franklin,
New Jersey, summer, 1968
Gravel Mirror with Cracks and Dust,
Shelly Sand, 1970
St. John in the Desert,
Earth Mounds and Gravel Paths, 1967
Map of Clear
Broken Glass (Atlantis), 1969
Museum of the Void,
Spiral Jetty in Red
Salt Water, circa 1970
Unedited 16mm Takes-Emmen
Towards the Development of
a "Cinema Cavern", 1971
Interior as a Tragic Site, n.d.
Amarillo Ramp, 1973
for a Monument in Anartica (formally known as Untitled S.F. Landscape),
Monuments of Passaic,
Chalk and Mirror
First Upside Down Tree,
- Map of Broken Glass, Atlantis, 1969
Bingham Copper Mining
Pit - Utah, Reclamation Project, 1973
a Film by Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson Spiral
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SHORT LIST OF SUGGESTED READINGS
The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited with an introduction
by Nancy Holt, published by New York University Press, 1979, Second
Edition: Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam,
published by University of California Berkeley, 1996
Robert Smithson Sculpture, Robert Hobbs, published by Cornell
University Press, Ithaca and London, 1981
Robert Smithson: Unearthed - Paintings, Collages, Writing, Eugenie
T'sai, published by Columbia University Press, 1991
Robert Smithson: Photoworks, Robert A. Sobieszek, co-published
by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, University of New Mexico Press,
Robert Smithson Slideworks, edtited, Guglielmo Bargellesi - Severi,
published by Carlo Frua, 1997
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PHOTOGRAPH REQUEST INFORMATION
All photographic rights are reserved by the Estate of Robert Smithson.
Permission for the use of any photographic materials must be obtained
from the Estate and VAGA, New York, through written mail only.
Requests via telephone, fax and emails for photographs will not be
accepted. With regard to photo requests for publication purposes,
each one is granted on a case by case basis. Please write to the Estate
with a full description (what purpose: publication or academic paper,
name of publisher if applicable, how many imprints if applicable.
Send photo request correspondence to both James Cohan Gallery
and VAGA, addresses listed below.
Photo Requests/Estate of Robert Smithson, c/o James Cohan Gallery,
533 West 26th Street, New York, New York, 10001.
VAGA (Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.) 350 Fifth Avenue,
Suite 6305 New York, New York, 10018 © Copyright Estate of Robert
Smithson/Licensed by VAGA, New York
Photo Fees required by the Estate as well as VAGA (Visual Artists
and Galleries Association, Inc). Fees for photographs are paid by
money order/bank check only.
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INFORMATION REGARDING ARTISTS & EXHIBITIONS
AT JAMES COHAN GALLERY
For information regarding other artists and exhibitions at the James
Cohan Gallery see web site www.JamesCohan.com
Short list of artists exhibited:
Folkert de Jong
Trenton Doyle Hancock
Yun-Fei Ji 季云飞
Shi Zhiying 石至莹
Yinka Shonibare MBE
Alison Elizabeth Taylor
Wang Xieda 王燮达
Xu Zhen 徐震 (MadeIn)
Web site Written and Compiled by Elyse Goldberg
Web site designer: Monika Sziladi / Hoopycake!