The Landscape of North Jersey Fills Smithson's Art
Zeaman, John, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
ROBERT SMITHSON'S NEW JERSEY
The Montclair Art Museum, 3 S. Mountain Ave., Montclair; 973-746- 5555 or montclairartmuse um.org.
Through June 22. Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and to 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month.
Admission is $12, seniors and students $10. Free on the first Friday of every month and free from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month.
It's taken a long time for New Jersey to claim Robert Smithson as a native son. The rest of the world has been more generous. Some 40 years after his death in a private plane accident, Smithson has a solid place in the art history of the '60s and '70s. He was a founder of the earthworks or land-art movement. Art lovers of a certain stripe still make pilgrimages to his monumental "Spiral Jetty" in the Great Salt Lake of Utah.
That he was born in Passaic and grew up in Clifton and Rutherford might have been incidental, except for his enduring fascination with the North Jersey landscape.
In the mid- to late '60s, he began making field trips here from his base in Manhattan. He would take a bus from the Port Authority to Passaic and wander around the parking lots and the debris-strewn banks of the Passaic River, taking snapshots of ugly storage tanks, bland bus stops and tacky storefronts. Or he and his wife, Nancy Holt, would trek out into the Meadowlands and make a vertigo- inducing close-up film of the phragmites - just the phragmites (the common reed). Sometimes they would collect samples -- chunks of concrete from a dumping area in Bayonne or trap rock from abandoned trolley lines in Edgewater.
Nowadays, this kind of subject matter has a label: "Weird New Jersey." And perhaps it's today's enhanced appreciation of New Jersey's dark side that has paved the way for "Robert Smithson's New Jersey" at the Montclair Art Museum. At first glance, that museum would seem the last place to pay homage to Smithson. Its roots are in the late-Hudson River School paintings of George Inness and styles like tonalism and luminism. But times change, and perhaps Smithson's degraded industrial sites and suburban sprawl strike more of a chord today than the mist and moonlight of the tonalists.
New Jersey, this exhibit tells you, was for Smithson as the Maine coast was for Winslow Homer and Chadd's Ford was for Andrew Wyeth. But it's not easy to sum up what that relationship was. Smithson had a wild talent. He loved theory and paradox. …