The Art at the End of the World


Heidi Julavits in The New York Times:

We were taking an airplane, I told our children, to see what I dramatically billed as ‘‘the end of the world.’’

‘‘Can’t we go to a beach?’’ they asked. It was February. They were sick of the cold.

I promised them sand and plenty of water, but unless things went terribly wrong, we would probably not be swimming in it.

‘‘Where are we going?’’ they asked.

We were flying 2,000 miles to see more than 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks extending 1,500 feet into the Great Salt Lake in the shape of a counterclockwise vortex, designed by the most famous practitioner of ’70s land art, Robert Smithson.

‘‘It’s called the ‘Spiral Jetty,’ ’’ I told them.

I showed them pictures. I admitted that maybe ‘‘the end of the world’’ wasn’t the best way to advertise what I hoped we would experience, even though previous visitors had described the landscape as hauntingly spare, as resembling how our planet might appear following a nuclear holocaust. Smithson’s gallerist, Virginia Dwan, said the jetty ‘‘was something otherworldly, but I hesitate to say hell, because I don’t mean everybody being tortured and so forth, but the feeling of aloneness, and of it being in a place that was unsafe, and something devilish, something devilish there.’’

Adding to the excitement I presumed we now shared: The road conditions near the jetty were highly variable, which was to say not always roads. The lake’s water levels, too, needed to be below 4,195 feet for us to see it, and those levels were partly dependent on snowfall (this winter there was lots) and how much of that snow, by the time we arrived, had melted and sluiced down the mountains — water that also, en route to the lake, could turn the 16 miles of unpaved roads into impassable mush.

More here.