Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty

Great Salt Lake, Utah

SMI_SpiralJetty_Steinmetz

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. © Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Photo: George Steinmetz

Overview

Robert Smithson's earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water. In 1999, through the generosity of the artist Nancy Holt, Smithson’s wife, and the Estate of Robert Smithson, the artwork was donated to Dia Art Foundation.

Photographic and video material of Spiral Jetty is copyright protected. For rights and reproduction requests, please contact rights@diaart.org.

Art: Spiral Jetty, 1970

Beginning in the 1960s, a number of American artists, including Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, and Robert Smithson, chose to depart from the confines of gallery and museum spaces to create artworks directly in the landscape. Drawn to desolate and remote locations, from abandoned industrial sites to uncultivated deserts and mountains, these artists created often colossal sculptural interventions in nature, inaugurating the movement of Land art.

One of the most remarkable examples is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. With the assistance of a team operating dump trucks, a tractor, and a front loader, Smithson created the sculpture in three weeks in April 1970. Over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth were formed into a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water. In 1999, through the generosity of the artist Nancy Holt, Smithson’s widow, and the Estate of Robert Smithson, the artwork was donated to Dia Art Foundation.

Before creating Spiral Jetty, Smithson had established a remarkably diverse artistic practice. He began his career as a painter but in the mid-1960s started to experiment in different media, including sculpture, writing, drawing, film, and eventually, earthworks. Deeply informed by his interest in geology, crystallography, and science in its popularized forms (such as science fiction literature and cinema, encyclopedic collections, even natural history museums), Smithson’s practice focused on processes of accumulation and displacement in order to reveal the contradictions in our visible world. In the late 1960s, his work increasingly revolved around the relationship between art and place. Smithson’sLeaning Mirror (1969), for instance, is a seminal indoor earthwork that consists of two six-foot-square mirrors embedded at a precise angle in a mound of reddish sand from an outdoor site. In other instances, Smithson worked directly in the peripheral spaces that inspired him. Sometimes the results were fleeting documentations, as with the illustrated travel-essay “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” (1967); other times permanent, large-scale sculptural interventions, as in the case of Spiral Jetty. “I like landscapes that suggest prehistory,” said Smithson.1 The artist chose to create Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake due in part to the lake’s unusual physical qualities, including the reddish coloration of the water caused by microbes, as well as how salt deposits crystallized on the black basalt rocks, formed from molten lava of nearby extinct volcanoes, that were scattered along the peninsula.

The fractured rocky landscape and fluctuating water levels of Great Salt Lake also appealed to the artist’s long-standing preoccupation with entropy. Smithson’s distinct definition of entropy, drawn from popular science and science fiction alike, fixated on the chance operations of nature that lead to a state of transformation. Created at a time when water levels were particularly low, the artwork was submerged from 1972 onward, and was only known through documentation. However, regional droughts thirty years later caused the lake to recede such that by 2002, a salt-encrusted Spiral Jettyreappeared for the first prolonged period in its history. Smithson often asserted that by responding to the landscape, rather than imposing itself upon it, Spiral Jetty is a site to actively walk on rather than a sculpture to behold. The act of traversing the artwork was enacted in Smithson’s 1970 film of the same title, which was made in the months following the completion of the sculpture. Alongside aerial footage of Spiral Jetty is a poetic sequence of the artist running along the spiral to rest at its innermost coil. In an interview from 1971, Smithson explained how the visitor’s experience of space shifts as one walks through the work: a “constriction or concentration exists within the inner coils . . . whereas on the outer edge you’re kind of thrown out, you’re aware of the horizons and how they echo through the Jetty.”2

Immediately following its completion, Spiral Jetty was deemed a momentous achievement in specialized art magazines, the popular press, as well as among Smithson’s peers, and more than forty years later, it continues to be recognized as an iconic artwork. Disappearing and reemerging, bound to site and circulated in documentation, the work exists in a state of permanent flux. “One apprehends what is around one’s eyes and ears,” wrote Smithson, “no matter how unstable or fugitive.”3

notes

1 Robert Smithson, “Conversation in Salt Lake City (1972),” in Robert Smithson: Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 298.

2 Kenneth Baker, “Talking with Robert Smithson,” in Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty, ed. Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly, et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press; New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2005), p. 158.

3 Robert Smithson, “The Spiral Jetty,” in Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty, p. 9.

As owner and custodian of Spiral Jetty, Dia Art Foundation maintains the lease of Utah sovereign lands in Great Salt Lake upon which the artwork is sited, and is responsible for the stewardship of this iconic earthwork.

At the time Dia acquired Spiral Jetty, the work was fully submerged in the lake. Beginning in the early 2000s, however, sustained drought in Utah caused water levels to recede, and Spiral Jetty became visible for the first prolonged period in its history. As a result, the prominence of Spiral Jetty has risen dramatically over the past decade, increasing both the visitorship to the site and the public’s interest in the artwork, at the local, national, and international levels.

Dia is committed to maintaining a photographic record of the work and documenting changes to the piece over time.

Partnerships

Dia collaborates with two organizations in Utah, the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College (GSLI) and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) at the University of Utah, who have been deeply involved in the advocacy ofSpiral Jetty over the years. Through the partners’ respective missions and expertise, they collectively assist Dia in sustaining the integrity of the artwork through educational programming, as well as maintaining access to the site and building local awareness.

Great Salt Lake Institute, Westminster College
The Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College (GSLI) regularly uses the Spiral Jetty as a site for scientific research, art and science curriculum enrichment, K-12 outreach efforts for teachers and students, and community field experiences. As frequent visitors to Rozel Point, GSLI serves as a key ally for Dia, particularly with regard to environmental issues, site maintenance, and accessibility, as well as Great Salt Lake planning and management issues which may impact the Spiral Jetty. For more information visit www.greatsaltlakeinstitute.org.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah (UMFA) is the State of Utah’s official art museum, and its collection includes several works by Robert Smithson. UMFA works with Dia to ensure that the Spiral Jetty’s cultural reputation is upheld locally, and to promote the exceptional significance of the artwork within Utah. For more information visit www.umfa.utah.edu.

Affiliation

Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands
The State of Utah owns the bed of Great Salt Lake where Spiral Jetty is located. The land is leased to Dia Art Foundation by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL). FFSL recognizes Spiral Jetty as an important state resource. For more information visit www.ffsl.utah.gov.

Visitor Information

Guests are advised to bring water, food, and waterproof boots, along with weather appropriate clothing. The lake’s levels vary several feet from year to year and from season to season, so Spiral Jetty is not always visible above the water line.

Dia asks that visitors “leave no trace,” by carrying out anything they bring with them. Please leave the natural environment exactly as you found it; this means not painting rocks, leaving black fire pits, or stamping on vegetation.

Spiral Jetty is visible when water levels are below approximately 4,195 feet. To view water levels at the Great Salt Lake click here.

To view sunrise and sunset times, click here.

Spiral Jetty Map

Spiral Jetty is approximately 2.5 hours from Salt Lake City

1. From Salt Lake City take I-15 north approximately 65 miles to the Corinne exit (exit 365), just west of Brigham City, Utah. Exit and turn right onto Route 13 to Corinne. *LAST GAS STATION is in Corinne.

2. Past Corinne, the road becomes Highway 83. Continue west for 17.7 miles. Follow signs to Golden Spike National Historic Site (GSNHS) Visitor Center.

3. Turn left onto Golden Spike Road and continue 7.7 miles up the east side of Promontory Pass to Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center. *LAST BATHROOMS are at the Visitor Center. *LAST CELL RECEPTION.

4. From the Visitor Center, drive 5.6 miles west on the main gravel road to a fork in the road. Continue left, heading west. *There are small white signs directing you the entire way to Spiral Jetty.

5. Cross a cattle guard. Call this cattle guard #1. Including this one, you cross four cattle guards before you reach Rozel Point and Spiral Jetty.

6. Drive 1.3 miles south to a second fork in the road. Turn right onto the southwest fork, and proceed 1.7 miles to cattle guard #2.

7. Continue southeast 1.2 miles to cattle guard #3.

8. Continue straight 2.8 miles south-southwest to cattle guard #4 and an iron-pipe gate.

9. Drive south for another 2.7 miles around the east side of Rozel Point. You will see the north arm of Great Salt Lake and an old oil jetty (not Spiral Jetty) left by drilling explorations that ended in the 1980s.

10. The road curves turning north and ends at a cul-de-sac parking lot directly next to Spiral Jetty.

Artist

Robert Smithson