Robert Smithson: The Invention of Landscape
American artist Robert Smithson (1938-73) was a pioneer in the field of Land Art, which is premised on an integral relationship between the work of art and nature. Fundamental to the artist’s thinking was the principle that a work of art is not a commercial commodity, but a work that grows out of a real place and is strongly bound to its landscape and its cultural and economic history.
One of his best-known pieces is Spiral Jetty (1970), which stands on the northeast shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA; it is built entirely of natural mineral materials. The title of the work reflects its form, a 460-metre-long spiral. The following year Smithson made his two-part piece Broken Circle/Spiral Hill in a sand quarry near Emmen in the Netherlands. This is the artist’s only work in Europe. He planned to make a dramatized documentary about the making of the piece, as he did with Spiral Jetty, but he did not live to complete the project. It was not until 40 years later, in 2011, that artist Nancy Holt, Smithson’s widow, and Dutch curator Theo Tegalaers managed to finish the film, Breaking Ground. The film focuses primarily on Broken Circle/Spiral Hill and the environment from which it arose, but also on Smithson himself, who had begun making the film before his death. Films were an important part of Smithson’s work; he and his wife made several films together, including Swamp, Spiral Jetty and Mono Lake, which indicate the importance of the film medium in Smithson’s Land Art.