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March 7, 2011

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty

Marking the 40th Anniversary of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, the Utah Museum of Fine Art has scheduled a Smithson-inspired exhibit titled "The Smithson Effect," opening this Thursday (March 10) and closing the day before Independence day. Germane events at the museum include lectures by Craig Dworkin (avant-garde poetry professor) and Hikmet Loe (Smithson scholar and SLC librarian), a panel discussion led by select artists, and a double feature. These events take place over the course of the exhibit, so check the museum's event calendar for specific dates.

Spiral Jetty, once submerged for close to three decades, reappeared above the water line in 2002 and has been relatively viewable since. The jetty, built in a period of drought, has been underwater for most of its existence. The black basalt used to construct the jetty now appears white having been covered with salt while the deep red coloration of the water cause by alkaline loving algae has turned pinkish. The Spiral Jetty is not visible when lake levels rise a bit above 4,197 feet; however, potential visitors can access the daily recorded elevations of the lake taken by the USGS to make sure it's visible. For the last 2-3 years, annually averaged lake levels have approximated the level of the lake when Smithson completed the project. October and November are often when lake levels are at their lowest for the year.

Smithson's work was gifted to the Dia Art Foundation in 1999, which partnered with the Getty Conservation institute to "[document] the work for possible conservation." The fruits of this endeavor result in fairly cool photos, video, and 360 degree view.

Initially, the jetty was not planned as it appears today. Photographer, Gianfranco Gorgoni who helped document the building of the Spiral Jetty took this shot, which is how Smithson originally imagined it.

Yet, Smithson called Bob Phillips and his crew back, after having "completed" the project, to construct what eventually would become Smithson's most famous work. Phillips's story has recently been covered by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Spiral Jetty is part of the efflorescence and culmination Smithson's conceptual thinking about complexity, change, monument, ownership, energy, and metaphor among many other theories and concepts.

"Spiral Jetty in Red Salt Water," n.d. circa 1970
Image Source

Today, Smithson's jetty has become symbolic of the deep influence the artist has had on contemporary artists and the art world. Home to Smithson's seminal work and one of the most important art pieces in the entire 20th century, Utahns of all ages owe it to themselves to visit Rozel Point. See you there! Check out a clip from Smithson's video about the Spiral Jetty here.

1 comment:

Jim R. said...

Thank you for the article on the Spiral Jetty. I plan on visiting it in August. I may adjust that to October or November to ensure I see the Jetty above the water line.