Robert Smithson focused his short but influential career on a reconsideration of the nature of sculpture—or, rather, of sculpture in relation to nature. 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. In the late 1960s, his work increasingly revolved around the relationship between art and place. Smithson’s Leaning 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 (1970). Deeply informed by science in its popularized forms (such as science fiction literature and cinema, encyclopedic collections, even natural history museums), his art focuses on processes of accumulation, displacement, and entropy in order to reveal the contradictions in our visible world.
Robert Smithson was born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1938. He died in Amarillo, Texas, in 1973.
Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty
This comprehensive publication considers Smithson's sculpture Spiral Jetty in relation to its eponymous companions—a text work and a film.