‘Spiral Jetty’ Is Named an Official State Work of Art by Utah State

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Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson is an internationally renowned American artist, a pioneer of land art, who challenged traditional notions of contemporary art and redefined the language of sculpture. His complex ideas took root in many forms: drawings, projects and proposals, sculpture, earthworks, films and critical writings. His work continues to inspire new generations decades after his passing in 1973. Smithson's works are featured prominently in major museum collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo.

He was one of the founders of the art form known as earthworks or land art, and is most well-known for Spiral Jetty, 1970, located in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. The earthworks were a radical departure from making formal objects situated in a gallery setting, producing an artform that was non-commercial and could not be owned or seen easily. Smithson's earthworks defined an entirely original notion of landscape. He moved beyond modernism's hermetic tendencies by abandoning formalism, rules and traditional art materials.

Beginning in 1964, he emerged with minimal-like structures that veered away from minimalism's closed systems. He also developed a wide variety of photographic works - none of which dealt with traditional composition or conventional image making. Embodied in all of Smithson's endeavors was his interest in entropy, mapping, paradox, language, landscape, popular culture, anthropology, and natural history. In 1970 Smithson moved his work outside of the gallery walls to concentrate entirely on earthworks such as Spiral Jetty, Partially Buried Woodshed, and 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 affect the work over time. His sculptures embody the spirit of some of the great monuments of past civilizations yet they are contemporary in concept and execution.

Smithson died at the age of 35 in a plane crash while photographing the site for one of his earthworks, Amarillo Ramp.

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