50 Years After Robert Smithson’s Untimely Death, the Holt/Smithson Foundation Has Released Previously Unpublished Photos of ‘Spiral Jetty’

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The Holt/Smithson Foundation has released previously unpublished black-and-white archival images of the to commemorate 50 years since the death of Robert Smithson on July 20, 1973.

One of the best-known masterpieces of land art, the was constructed by Smithson in 1970 near Rozel Point on the northeastern short of Great Salt Lake in Utah. The 1,500 feet long counterclockwise coil shape was made using over six thousand tons of local basalt rocks and earth. It is currently owned and overseen by the Dia Art Foundation.

Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) lies far from the Great Salt Lake’s water on August 01, 2021 near Corinne, Utah. As severe drought continues to take hold in the western United States, water levels at the Great Salt Lake dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Born in 1938, Smithson at one time thought about becoming a field naturalist or a zoologist because of his love of natural history and prehistory. He would eventually make his mark on the landscape through art, and ‘s shape is inspired by the molecular lattice of salt-crystal deposits that fill the saltwater lake.

In the decades since its construction, the work has become part of our changing world. It has alternately been submerged by high water levels or entirely exposed by droughts, as was the case during a particularly severe heatwave in the summer of 2021. That the work would eventually decay was almost a justification for Smithson, who was fascinated by the concept of entropy.

American sculptor and artist Robert Smithson, photographed on November 7, 1969. Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

American sculptor and artist Robert Smithson, photographed on November 7, 1969. Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Smithson died aged 35 in a plane crash while inspecting the proposed site for another piece of land art, , on a ranch near Amarillo, Texas. This project was eventually completed by his widow, the artist Nancy Holt, with the help of artist Richard Serra and gallerist Tony Shafrazi. The Holt/Smithson Foundation was founded in 2017, just a few years after Holt’s death in 2014, with the aim of preserving both artists’ legacies.

A viewer’s experience of the differs greatly depending on their vantage point. The new selection of unpublished photos of the includes a mix of aerial and close-up views. The man featured is not Smithson, but it is believed that he was the author.

Robert Smithson, (1970) at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Photograph: Robert Smithson, 1970.

Robert Smithson, (1970) at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Photograph: Robert Smithson, 1970.

Robert Smithson, (1970) at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Photograph: Robert Smithson, 1970.

Robert Smithson, (1970) at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Photograph: Robert Smithson, 1970.

Robert Smithson, (1970) at Great Salt Lake, Utah. Photograph: Robert Smithson, 1970.

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