Louise Steinman at the LARB:
IN 1970, when artist Robert Smithson first set his gaze on the Great Salt Lake’s Rozel Point Peninsula, he knew that he’d found the right site. Smithson was among a vanguard of artists in the late ’60s moving their work out into the landscape, freeing it from the containment of the gallery. Now he was determined to build an earthwork on a massive scale. Smithson had specific requirements: he wanted the color red — like the salt lakes he’d read about in Bolivia, their surface tinged in carnelian tones by micro-bacteria in the water. He wanted remote and he wanted vast — few to no markers of human artifice — to fuck with the viewer’s sense of scale. He wanted a site that would itself inform what he wanted to build.
Smithson and his wife, artist Nancy Holt, scouted Great Salt Lake’s southern shore; but, as he later wrote in his 1972 essay “The Spiral Jetty,” the water wasn’t red enough. At another site near Syracuse, Utah, on the eastern side of the lake, they were shooed off by angry ranchers.