Robert Smithson

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Spiral Jetty from atop Rozel Point, in mid-April 2005. It was created in 1970 and still exists although it has often been submerged by the fluctuating lake level. It consists of some 6500 tons of basalt, earth and salt.

Robert Irving Smithson (January 2, 1938 – July 20, 1973) was an American artist famous for his use of photography in relation to sculpture and land art.


  • Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Hallways lead the viewer to things once called 'pictures' and 'statues." Anachronisms hang and protrude from every angle. Themes without meaning press on the eye. Multifarious nothings permute into false windows (frames) that open up into a variety of blanks. Stale images cancel one's perception and deviate one's motivation. Blind and senseless, one continues wandering around the remains of Europe, only to end in that massive deception 'the art history of the recent past'

Cultural Confinement, 1972[edit]

"Cultural Confinement," in: Artforum, 1972; Republished in: Robert Smithson, ‎Jack D. Flam (1996). Robert Smithson, the Collected Writings.

  • Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition , rather than asking an artist to set his limits. Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories. Some artists imagine they've got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold of them. As a result, they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control.
  • Writing should generate ideas into matter, and not the other way around.
  • The scenic ideals that surround even our national parks are carriers of a nostalgia for heavenly bliss and eternal calmness.

Quotes about Robert Smithson[edit]

  • In the artist/theorist tradition of Robert Smithson, Joseph Nechvatal is a pioneer in the field of digital image making who challenges our perceptions of nature by altering conventional notions of space and time, gender, and self... Nechvatal successfully plunged into the depths where art, technology and theory meet.
    • Joe Lewis (2003), "Joseph Nechvatal at Universal Concepts Unlimited," in: Art in America Magazine, March 2003. pp.123-124.
  • The copious literature on the work of artist Robert Smithson has made very little of the many parallels between the inventor of earthworks and the nineteenthcentury author of pataphysics, despite the established fact that the artist read and made notes from Alfred Jarry’s Dr. Faustroll (1898) while working on the Spiral Jetty in 1970, which undoubtedly influenced the subsequent Broken Circle &/ Spiral Hill (1971, Emmen). Given the insightful literature reassessing Jarry’s influence on twentieth-century artists including Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Rodney Graham, a consideration of Smithson’s spiral earthworks in connection with Jarry is long overdue. In contrast to prevailing art research practices today, Smithson’s work is much more aligned with the pataphysical pursuit of ‘imaginary solutions’ that examine ‘the laws governing exceptions’ and describe ‘a universe which can be – and perhaps should be – envisaged in place of the traditional one’.

External links[edit]

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