The Winding Road to Spiral Jetty

Timothy Don in Lapham's Quarterly:

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 23 17.18 Today the object of my journey is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork belonging to an aesthetic movement known as land art, which the Prestel Dictionary of Art and Artists defines as “art which, rather than depicting nature, instead tries to awaken ecological, cultural or social consciousness of the environment through interventions or performances in the natural world itself.” In Nevada in 1969, Michael Heizer excavated a quarter of a million tons of sandstone to create Double Negative, a straight trench thirty feet wide, fifty feet long, and a third of a mile deep. Since 1972 he has been bulldozing his way across the Nevada desert to create City, a series of five massive installations promising to become the largest piece of art ever made. “I’m building this work for later,” Heizer has said. “I’m interested in making a work of art that will represent all civilization to this point.” Unsurprisingly, it remains unfinished. From 1973-77 Walter De Maria planted four hundred stainless steel posts in a grid one mile long and one kilometer wide in a mountain-rimmed valley in New Mexico: Lightning Field. Well beyond in museum halls, scattered around the American West like versions of Stonehenge and Machu Pichu, these and other such works are difficult to reach, intended to be seen by pilgrims such as myself.

Smithson once said “there is nothing natural in the Museum of Natural History.” Seeing the world on calendars and postcards colors one’s idea of nature, occludes any view of what it actually is. He was interested in sites without scenic meaning, unframed and hence “liberated” places.

More here.