People / Robert Smithson

Artist, critic. Robert Smithson was born on January 2, 1938 in Passaic, New Jersey. He won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League in New York in 1953. He spent two years attending night school there, and he also briefly studied at the Brooklyn Museum School in 1956. He had his first solo exhibition at the Artists Gallery in 1959. Smithson was painting in an Abstract Expressionist vein until his marriage to sculptor Nancy Holt in 1963. The following year, his first critical texts and sculptures appear, considered to be his first mature works. Associated with Minimalism or the Primary Structures movement, Smithson’s work of this period feature mirrors as a key element, playing with versimilar representation and including the environment in the artwork. In 1966, Smithson began exploring the industrial areas of New Jersey, fascinated by the sight of dump trucks excavating tonnes soil. These journeys resulted in a series of Nonsite (1968) works, which were made in the gallery from materials such as maps, photographs, and piles of earth and rock collected from specific construction sites.

The Nonsite works mark the beginning of his involvement in Land Art, a movement he would analyze in the article, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,” published in Artforum magazine in 1968. Entropy becomes an important theme in Smithson’s work of this time, as evinced in his most famous site-specific earthwork, Spiral Jetty (1970), a large spiral composed of earth, rock, and salt crystals constructed at Rozel Point in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. That same year, Smithson came to Vancouver to execute the site-specific piece, Glue Pour (1970). Glue Pour is notable as one of only three major pour pieces and Smithson’s only work made in Vancouver after three previous visits and a series of unrealized projects. Throughout this time, Smithson maintained an active writing practice, publishing critical texts in magazines such as Artforum, Studio International, and Harper’s Bazaar. Smithson died in a plane crash while at work on Amarillo Ramp (1973) in Amarillo, Texas.

  1. 05. Robert Smithson in Vancouver: A Fragment of a Greater Fragment (catalogue cover)
    Grant Arnold, Christos Dikeakos, Lucy Lippard, and Robert Smithson (Book)
  2. 06. The Photo Show: Documentation of exhibition
    Christos Dikeakos (Photograph)
  3. 07. Smithson Glue Pour: documentation
    Lucy Lippard, Ilya Pegonis, Robert Smithson, and Denis Wheeler (Photograph)