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Who controls "Spiral Jetty"?
June 17, 2011 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Control of Robert Smithson's earthwork masterpiece Spiral Jetty (360° panorama - QuickTime required) is now in dispute. Last week, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands announced that the New York-based Dia Foundation, which was given stewardship over the work by the artist's estate, had been tardy in making its annual $250 payment on the 10 acres of land and had also failed to respond to an automatically generated notice that the 20 year lease had expired. (The Dia Foundation disagrees.) Consequently, it will now be "managed like any other sovereign land" - which may be of interest to the energy companies that have sought to explore the area. (previously)
posted by Trurl (46 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I pay $250, can I claim total stewardship?
posted by Think_Long at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2011


the greatest and most important earthwork in the world
Hyperbole much?
posted by scruss at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


the greatest and most important earthwork in the world
Hyperbole much?


The guy practically founded the earthworks movement, and it's his seminal work. It seems pretty widely regarded as one of the most important earthworks in the world, so no, I don't think that's hyperbole, much.
posted by nzero at 10:50 AM on June 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Seems funny that they are claiming that the lease has run out and that Dia supposedly missed the annual payment at that exact moment.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:52 AM on June 17, 2011


Hyperbole much?

If there is a more famous earthwork - or one that is as inevitably selected for inclusion in art history textbooks - I'm not aware of it.

Can you share with us a competing candidate you have in mind?
posted by Trurl at 10:53 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


> founded the earthworks movement

I refute it thus.
posted by hank at 10:55 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


the greatest and most important earthwork in the world
Hyperbole much?

The guy practically founded the earthworks movement, and it's his seminal work. It seems pretty widely regarded as one of the most important earthworks in the world, so no, I don't think that's hyperbole, much.


the greatest and most important earthwork in the modern world. . .

but see also. . .
posted by Herodios at 10:55 AM on June 17, 2011



Hyperbole much?

Smithson was an excellent, intelligent, thoughtful artist who died young, while making his work. In addition to the tremendous respect that people in the art world have for him and the work, there is also, I think, still a romanticized sense of loss involved. (Think Stevie Ray Vaugn, David Foster Wallace, Kurt Cobain....)

People will fight for Smithson, hard.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:02 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think 'most important in the world, ever' is a bit overblown. People have been working these over for millennia... for example.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:07 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I really wanted to say 'have been erecting these for millennia', but it's not technically accurate since it's not a vertical structure. Alas!)
posted by FatherDagon at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2011


Frank Lloyd Wright was just another hack. People have been building homes for thousands of years.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2011


Frank Lloyd Wright was just another hack. People have been building homes for thousands of years.

I think it's safe to say that if you said Falling Water was the greatest and most important home ever built in all of human history, some people would push back on that.
posted by Copronymus at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there is a more famous earthwork...

I'd go for the Nazca Lines myself, though I have a soft spot for the Uffington White Horse.

Frank Lloyd Wright was just another hack. People have been building homes for thousands of years.

No one is going around claiming that Frank Lloyd Wright invented the house.
posted by darksasami at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this the sort of thing that is more impressive in person? In appreciating how it was constructed? I ask these questions in complete sincerity as the photos just look like someone bulldozed a spiral to me.
posted by maryr at 11:20 AM on June 17, 2011


Geez. This thread derailed quick.

So, anyone have any insight into what, exactly, the Utah people did with Dia's payment. According to Dia's statement, they made the payment and have the records to prove it was accepted and deposited.

What I'm not getting is Utah's claim that the invoice was sent in error and the money would have to be returned. This almost sounds like "Oops! We weren't supposed to send you an invoice this year for some unexplainable reason, but Margaret in accounting wasn't copied on the email."

How do you send an annual invoice in error?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2011


1) He was not the first person to ever construct large scale works of art using the earth as the canvas and no one is claiming he was
2) He was a founding member of the earthworks movement in the 60s. That's all I meant when I said "practically founded the earthworks movement." I did not mean he invented land art itself.
posted by nzero at 11:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


No one is going around claiming that Frank Lloyd Wright invented the house.

I see what you did there.
posted by nzero at 11:28 AM on June 17, 2011


Also, WTF Utah??
posted by nzero at 11:30 AM on June 17, 2011


OK, fine, but can anyone tell me what's so awesome about it, and works like it? I suspect part of my problem comes from looking at these things on little tiny jpegs, but still, it's bringing out the philistine in me. Strikes me a bit like the Non-Visible Museum (which is hopefully a parody).

"QuickTime required," huh? I haven't seen that bit of text in while...
posted by Edgewise at 11:32 AM on June 17, 2011


Also, WTF Utah??

Heh. That's nothing.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill [in March] authorizing Utah to file eminent domain proceedings against federally owned land, primarily to gain access to state-owned parcels to be able to drill where trucks and pipelines now can't reach.
posted by Trurl at 11:32 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


(To truly appreciate the absurdity of the Non-Visible Museum, click on the video at the bottom of the page, and James Franco will explain it to you.)
posted by Edgewise at 11:33 AM on June 17, 2011


'Earthwork' refers to a particular artistic movement. Claiming that Renoir or whomever is the greatest impressionist painter of all time cannot be refuted by pointing to cave paintings and saying they represent the impression that the artist had of his subject.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:38 AM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, that's not abundantly clear, is it? I mean, if a close-knit society of London broil appreciators and I define "food" to refer to "London broil, medium rare, with an arugula salad and Cabernet Sauvignon," and then later, on the 5:30 bus to Trenton, I say, "I like food," is it very fair of me to take offense when someone else points out how nice murgh makhani is? Perhaps if the original statement had been "the most important piece of the Earthworks movement" rather than "the most important earthwork," this discussion would have turned out rather differently.
posted by darksasami at 11:57 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


is it very fair of me to take offense when someone else points out how nice murgh makhani is

No, but that's a ridiculous example. 'Earthwork' is not nearly as broad as 'food.' In any case, I'm sorry you were confused by the language in the article, but now hopefully everything's been cleared up, so let's maybe talk about something else.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:03 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I'm not getting is Utah's claim that the invoice was sent in error and the money would have to be returned.

Not many details are provided, but my guess would be that the lease ran out, so Dia couldn't pay the next year until they re-signed it, and the invoice shouldn't have been sent.
posted by smackfu at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2011


Perhaps if the original statement had been "the most important piece of the Earthworks movement" rather than "the most important earthwork," this discussion would have turned out rather differently.

Now that we've cleared that up, can someone respond substantively to either of these questions?

maryr: Is this the sort of thing that is more impressive in person? In appreciating how it was constructed? I ask these questions in complete sincerity as the photos just look like someone bulldozed a spiral to me.

Edgewise: can anyone tell me what's so awesome about it, and works like it?

Thorzdad: How do you send an annual invoice in error?
posted by Herodios at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2011


Is this the sort of thing that is more impressive in person?

As poetry has been defined as what gets lost in translation, one might define art as what gets lost in reproduction.

Also, I am not aware of any landscape in any context that is not more impressive in person.
posted by Trurl at 12:11 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps if the original statement had been "the most important piece of the Earthworks movement" rather than "the most important earthwork," this discussion would have turned out rather differently

Last comment on this, because the discussion needs to move on. Smithson coined the term earthwork. Meaning he was the first to use it to refer to art (source: the article I linked to already). Before that, it meant, you know, to work on the earth. So the term earthwork is intrinsically tied to this movement. Your argument is especially specious considering that in this case the source of the term was an article about this work, so it was painfully obvious what was meant in the context. Clear?
posted by nzero at 12:13 PM on June 17, 2011


Is it usually capitalized?
posted by smackfu at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2011


(Just kidding!)
posted by smackfu at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2011


Your argument is especially specious considering that in this case the source of the term was an article about this work, so it was painfully obvious what was meant in the context.

Wasn't painfully obvious to me, sorry. If it was capitalized, yes, it would have been clearer that it referred to an artistic movement. But since it wasn't, my mind went to consider other important and not-necessarily-artistic earthworks, like the Suez Canal.

posted by Capt. Renault at 12:38 PM on June 17, 2011


There is no doubt in my mind that Bob would have liked the Suez Canal immensely.
posted by xod at 12:41 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it usually capitalized?

:P
posted by nzero at 12:44 PM on June 17, 2011


Smithson coined the term earthwork. Meaning he was the first to use it to refer to art (source: the article I linked to already). Before that, it meant, you know, to work on the earth.

So his primary contribution would appear to be in the field of marketing, then.

I looked up the Wikipedia article on Spiral Jetty: At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a drought, the jetty re-emerged in 2004 and was completely exposed for almost a year. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 due to a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again. Lake levels receded and, as of spring 2010, the Jetty is again walkable and visible.

[...]

The current exposure of the jetty to the elements and to the ravages of its growing number of visitors has led to a controversy over the preservation of the sculpture. The discoloration of the rocks and the exposure of the lake bed having altered the colors of the original, a proposal has emerged to buttress the sculpture and restore the original colors by the addition of new basalt rocks in the spirit of the original. It is expected that without such additions, the sculpture will be submerged again once the drought is over.


From this NYT story:
State officials say that Rozel Point has always offered a fine tableau of the despoiled and the natural. A natural seep of oil sludge is right down the beach from the “Jetty,” harvested since pioneer days. And oil drilling was also under way, they say, in view of the “Jetty” in 1970, though it proved economically unviable. The new drill rigs, they say, are much farther away than the ones Mr. Smithson knew, and that can be glimpsed briefly in his movie.

[...]
The deputy director at Dia, Laura Raicovich, agreed that Mr. Smithson had chosen his site carefully and loved some things that others might call ugly. But Ms. Raicovich said he had also been ambivalent about the context of the “Jetty.” He wrote about the rotting pier and the shacks that lined the shore, but in his photographs, she said, he kept the focus on the wild backdrop of the lake. And the proposed drilling plan is different, Ms. Raicovich added, “because it’s a new addition and it’s pretty fair to say that it’s not desirable — on an aesthetic level it alters the physical experience.”

Oh great, NIMLOS. Sorry Ms Raicovich, I don't think it's fair to say it's not desirable just because it's different. There's no source in the Wikipedia story for the assertion that some people want to restore the original colors, but that seems like a horrific desecration of the artist's intention for the piece, if true. Some drilling rigs 5 miles away, not so much.

I happen to like land art and would be upset if someone were proposing that this sculpture be destroyed (although part of what I like about land art is its potential ephemerality, arising from the conflict between the artist and the forces of nature, of which mankind is a part). But having the landscape change around it, even nearby, does not bother me at all. The very essence of the work is the imposition of an artificial structure on a natural environment. Where do we draw the line? should everything visible from the lakeshore be preserved exactly? what about everything that can be seen from a plane? Smithson died in a plane crash, and it seems reasonable to guess that someone who worked on such a scale would have appreciated the aerial perspective in developing such works. I've certainly found it valuable for the appreciation of other artists' work (Mondrian, for example).
posted by anigbrowl at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2011


in this case the source of the term was an article about this work, so it was painfully obvious what was meant in the context.

It was only clear what was meant if you already knew what the the word meant. If you didn't, there wasn't a lot to go on. I had to figure it out by googling the term: I had heard of 'earthworks' before generally, as "Earthworks" or "Earth Works." The only prior connotations I had with 'earthwork(s)' are tied to archaeology and engineering -- given the questions being asked upthread, I don't think I'm alone in that.

Smithson coined the term earthwork. Meaning he was the first to use it to refer to art.

The term 'earthwork' in the specific artistic sense used in the article was coined by him, yes. The term 'earthwork' in a broad sense existed long before Smithson, hence the confusion people have expressed.

I agree that we should be talking about the substance of the articles in the FPP and not the word choices they make, and I am unhappy that so much of this thread has been about a semantic point, but please don't be dismissive of people who happen to not have heard of this particular artistic movement. I had heard of it, had seen pictures of Spiral Jetty (and would love to see it in person), and was still a bit thrown by that sentence.


maryr: Is this the sort of thing that is more impressive in person? In appreciating how it was constructed? I ask these questions in complete sincerity as the photos just look like someone bulldozed a spiral to me.

Edgewise: can anyone tell me what's so awesome about it, and works like it?

Consider this (from Wikipedia):

At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a drought, the jetty re-emerged in 2004 and was completely exposed for almost a year. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 due to a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again. Lake levels receded and, as of spring 2010, the Jetty is again walkable and visible. Originally black basalt rock against ruddy water, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.

Still pictures of it at one point in time -- or even one visit at one time -- are going to be of that time. It's a work of art that changes season to season, year to year; it's a work that's intended to change over time, out of the control of the artist but influenced by him. I think there's something wonderfully meditative about that. Contrast it with construction meant to impede nature -- to hold it back, to preserve order, to prevent change. This is construction meant to work with nature; indeed, that work is part of the art itself.

I've never been, but I imagine it would be more impressive in person. It's art-as-landscape, and what landscape isn't better in person?

That's at least a layman's take, some thoughts after reading up about it briefly. I don't know if any of that is correct -- and I'd love it if someone with more knowledge could speak to it -- but there you go.
posted by cjelli at 1:02 PM on June 17, 2011


I ask these questions in complete sincerity as the photos just look like someone bulldozed a spiral to me.

Well, have you ever seen anyone else bulldoze a spiral?
posted by smackfu at 1:04 PM on June 17, 2011


My current obsession is City, an earthwork which has been in construction since the 70's. I'm considering going out to AZ and sneaking onto the land, just to get a peek at it.
posted by hellojed at 1:10 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The argument in this thread about earthworks reminds me of a man taking a long walk off a short pier that spirals in on itself and never really resolves itself. If only I had a way to visualize this metaphor...
posted by chavenet at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, there's a song...
posted by weston at 2:41 PM on June 17, 2011


I went to see the Jetty around '03. It really is an impressive work. Back then it was well above the water line so you could walk out onto it as far as you wanted. The rocks were covered in amazing salt crystals.
Some of the pictures in the link seem to show it mostly underwater. It's probably underwater now or will be soon. Utah has a lot of snow pack. Experts say flooding is inevitable. If that's the case then the Great Salt Lake is sure to rise.
IMO this is what makes this really cool. It's fleeting nature is what adds to its value. If you get a chance to visit N. Utah. Go see it. Of course it's quite a journey. As I recall it takes 2-plus hours to get there from SLC. Then you have to brave and incredibly rocky road. You need a high-profile vehicle to safely traverse the road out there. So don't drive your corolla. I think this deserves the title "the greatest and most important earthwork in the world." But, I'm a little biased. I'm kind of an art nerd.
posted by hot_monster at 6:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to take a stab at explaining why land art is significant and why Spiral Jetty is great.

It comes down to process. By the 60s, process had become a philosophically interesting subject (see Alfred North Whitehead, for example). New knowledge about systems had introduced a lot of ideas about processes of formation, self-organization and the like. These amazing things, like, say, the genesis of granite, work at tremendous scales, and are subject to complex, stochastic influences produced by interactions of many factors over time.

How can you engage the basic morphogenetic principles of material in the studio? Richard Serra used to fling ladles of molten lead at the wall to see what formed. Among other things, Smithson created clear human forms at a large scale, and then left them to be altered by the living environment.

The spiral is poised at the edge of existence- it's just robust enough to persist, but delicate enough to slowly bleed away. There's also a very interesting and complex chemical/biological gradient in the spiral, as the water it encloses gets progressively further from the main body of the lake. And so on.

The point is that these effects cannot be produced solely by an author- they are co-productions with natural material systems, even when it involves dumping a truckload of asphalt down the side of a hill. Remember too, that this was at the height of Andy Warhol's campaign, and if that was not your thing, you were on your own. This work is in large part a rejection of the capitalist art-as-commodity thing that was going on.

Smithson was multitalented, and a pretty damn good writer.
Read this, if you'd like to get a sense of what's going on. (Go to page 68- 'A tour of the monuments of Passaic, New Jersey)

Personally, I think that whatever happens to the spiral happens. That's kind of the point.
(Arguing against protecting the spiral, not in favour of wanton resource development.) Hope that helps, if anybody's still around.
posted by Casimir at 6:36 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


One of Smithson's objectives for making Land Art or earthworks was to resist the commercial gallery system and the commodifiable artworks that passed through it. By working with geologic processes, he was also trying to create a much grander context for his work, putting it in the frame of reference and timeline of the earth itself, and not in the momentary blip of human culture.

Since the Jetty is so remote, and it was soon submerged, it really existed for most [art world] people solely as aerial photos or the film Smithson made about it. And as a result of this emphasis on the media images of the Jetty, plus its general inaccessibility, it's sort of entered art history as a largely conceptual work, and its physical reality and site get kind of ignored. Which is one bit of context for the various examples over the years of Dia's mismanagement or ignoring of the Jetty and its site. [Dia was very late to the controversy about the 2008 drilling proposals, for example. modernartnotes broke the story over a week ahead of any Dia involvement.]

All that said, it's only the status of the land underlying the Jetty that's currently in flux. Smithson's widow Nancy Holt gave Dia title to the artwork itself in 1999, and they are indisputably the owner of the work in the IP/copyright /artist-authorized sense. I'd expect if they are not able to renew the lease, they'll contest the state's or any other bidder's claims on the Jetty-as-artwork.
posted by gregorg at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of Smithson's objectives for making Land Art or earthworks was to resist the commercial gallery system and the commodifiable artworks that passed through it.

To me, this is the really interesting problem here, and in the legacy of earthworks more generally, because Dia clearly aims to manage its "collection" with an aggressively preservationist, and also copyright-defensive, agenda. In the case of De Maria's "Lightning Field," Dia bought the land adjoining it (or at least conservation easements on it, I don't know the details) to preserve the atmosphere of the field, and Dia charges a bunch of money to visit and experience it, and apparently also sends take-down notices to anyone who puts photos of it online. It's clearly a pretty commodified work at this point, and also one that's not supposed to change along with the surrounding land anymore, no matter what its creator thought. (I love the Modern Art Notes guy's term, when he talks about protecting the work's "viewshed" — as though that were an ecological concept rather than an aesthetic one.)

I'd love to know if there's any good critical writing out there on the way that earthworks have been appropriated and commodified by the foundation/collecting world in the decades after the works' creation.
posted by RogerB at 10:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eeew, really? Fuck them then.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:16 AM on June 18, 2011


Apologies for the derail; I'm an engineer, so earthworks are things like Cahokia, Grand Coulee, Stonehenge, Three Gorges ... maybe some of my own earthworks are art.
posted by scruss at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2011


I love Andy Goldsworthy.
Going to Moab next week, and now I'm gonna detour to see spiral jetty. thanks for the post.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2011


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