Magazine article Artforum International

Rising Sign

Magazine article Artforum International

Rising Sign

Article excerpt

Spiral Jetty is back, and it doesn't look like itself. Robert Smithson's epochal earthwork of 1970 no longer has the appearance preserved for us in photographs and on film shot before it disappeared beneath the surface of Utah's Great Salt Lake. Submerged for twenty-odd years, its aspect has changed: the stones are completely covered with crystallized salt and the dirt between them has eroded so that at first glance the once solid promontory evokes a discontinuous ribbon of frost. Now that a falling water level has exposed it again, the jetty's appearance brings it closer to the fusion with site that Smithson envisioned:

I thought of making an island with the help of boats and barges, but in the end I would let the site determine what I would build.... This site was a rotary that enclosed itself in an immense roundness. From that gyrating space emerged the possibility of the Spiral Jetty. No ideas, no concepts, no systems, no structures, no abstractions could hold themselves together in the actually of that evidence.[1]

Today the jetty--its spiral form already a reminder of the way the crystals in the lake grow--seems composed of nothing but salt and water; it does belong a little more to its site, and in this respect, though it has changed, it is as much Smithson's work as ever.

Interested in diverse kinds of entropy, Smithson invoked notions of "de-architecture," or "ruins in reverse," in his writings, and often played a kind of game with the idea of disappearance. Partially Buried Woodshed, 1970, realized just before Spiral Jetty, is a good example: the work--it is adequately described by its title--involves the partial interment of a modest architectural structure, a process that turns out to give the building an undeniable allegorical power (in the manner of the "buried architecture" projects imagined by Etienne-Louis Boullee at the end of the 18th century). …

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