Robert Smithson's monumental earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) has been acquired by Dia Center for the Arts as a gift from the Estate of the artist. Located on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, this pivotal landmark in postwar American art constitutes a major addition to Dia's collection, which also contains related works from this period. The Estate's generous bequest recognizes Dia's commitment, since its founding in 1974, to promote art that extends beyond a traditional exhibition framework. Director Michael Govan announced that Dia intends to facilitate easier access to this reknown piece in the future as well as to centralize the historical documents relating to it into a scholarly archive.
In 1970 gallerist and art patron Virginia Dwan provided Smithson with the funds needed to construct Spiral Jetty. Using black basalt rocks and earth from the site, the artist created a coil 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide that stretches out counterclockwise into the translucent red water. In 1972 Smithson explained his fascination with this rugged context: "I like landscapes that suggest prehistory. As an artist it is interesting to take on the persona of a geological agent and actually become part of that process rather than overcome it."
Today Spiral Jetty is submerged as it has been for most of its existence. Realizing, after its completion, that he had built it at a time when the level of the lake was unnaturally low, Smithson considered adding further material to ensure that his artwork would be visible more often. As yet this has not been done.
Born in 1938, in Passaic, New Jersey, Smithson began addressing issues of landscape in his art in the late 1960s, most notably in photo-essays and a series of "nonsites". By means of maps, diagrams, photographs, and material samples he effected a complex dialogue between the actual site and its means of representation in a museum or gallery context. In 1973, while surveying the site in Texas for his earthwork Amarillo Ramp, Smithson died in a plane crash.
The acquisition of Spiral Jetty continues Dia's longstanding support of major earthworks. In 1979 Dia helped realize Walter De Maria's Lightning Field, which it now owns, maintains, and makes available to the public. In the late 1970s it provided initial funds for James Turrell's Roden Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona, and currently it assists Michael Heizer's ongoing City project in Nevada.
Rooftop Program to celebrate acquisition of Spiral Jetty
A program of film, audio, and video on Dia's rooftop will celebrate the gift of Smithson's Spiral Jetty. On Wednesday, September 29, 1999 at 7pm Dia will present Smithson's film made in response to Spiral Jetty. Additionally, two pieces by the young British artist Tacita Dean, an audio work inspired by this famed earthwork, and a new video relating to Smithson's Partially Buried Woodshed (1970) will be shown. Composer, performer, and author, as well as an original member of the group Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo will perform his 30-minute piece for guitar, Amarillo Ramp (for Robert Smithson), 1994. Admission is free.
Dia Center for the Arts is a tax-exempt charitable organization. Established in 1974, the organization has become one of the largest in the United States dedicated to contemporary art and contemporary culture. In fulfilling this commitment, Dia sustains diverse programming in visual arts, poetry, education, and critical discourse and debate.