Explaining Smithson's Spiral Jetty

Art & Place, our new book on site-specific art, examines this seminal 1970 land-art work

Art & Place is a celebration of the most awesome and outstanding examples of site-specific art in the Americas, ranging from rock carvings by ancient tribes to magnificent frescoes and modern, outdoor installations. Take, for example, Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) located at Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah. With its beautiful, lakeside setting and the vastness of its scale, it's little wonder the book's editors chose this as the cover image.

Robert Smithson made the decision to move his work into the great outdoors in the late 1960s, when he became disenchanted with the galleries, which he described as "mausoleums for art", too bound up with commodification and commercialism, which were alien to the true and free artistic spirit.

Smithson wanted to reconnect with the environment - hence works like Spiral Jetty, which also reflected his interest in science and geology. To create the 457 metre long spiral, Smithson bulldozed material from the shore into the lake. It is a man-made, artistic creation but unlike most gallery art, it lies horizontal and dwarfs the human spectator, who feels that sense of smallness he or she experiences when in the presence of nature's beauty, or perhaps contemplating the stars.


Spiral Jetty on the page in Art & Place
Spiral Jetty on the page in Art & Place

Outer space was very much on Smithson's mind when he created Spiral Jetty. In 1969, just prior to its creation, Neil Armstrong had become the first human to set foot on the moon, and mankind was reevaluating its relationship with the cosmos. The jetty resembles a galaxy in its shape. However, the spectator walks around it in an anti-clockwise direction, and is thereby prompted not just to consider cosmology but also to move backwards through geological time.

Intrigued to learn more about this and other works? Then allow our editor, Rosie Pickles to introduce you to the title. You can also browse through a selection of images, here, or simply buy a copy of the book, from the people who made it, here.