Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty

The "Spiral Jetty", considered to be the central work of American sculptor Robert Smithson, is an earthwork sculpture constructed in 1970.

Built of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah [ [http://www.robertsmithson.com/earthworks/spiral_jetty.htm "Spiral Jetty"] ] , it forms a 1500-foot long, [Green, Tyler. ArtsJournal.com. [http://www.artsjournal.com/man/archives20050601.shtml#101161 "The Jetty"] ] 15-foot wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake which is only visible when the level of the Great Salt Lake falls below an elevation of 4,197.8 feet [Case, William F. Utah Geological Survey. [http://www.ugs.state.ut.us/surveynotes/geosights/spiraljetty.htm "Pink Water,White Salt Crystals,Black Boulders,and the Return of Spiral Jetty!"] ] .

At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a drought, the jetty re-emerged in 2004 and was completely exposed for almost a year. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 due to a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again.

Originally black basalt rock against ruddy water, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.


Smithson reportedly chose the Rozel Point site based on the blood-red color of the waters and its connection with the primordial sea. The red hue of the water is due the presence of salt tolerant bacteria and algae that thrive in the extreme 27 percent salinity of the lake's north arm, which was isolated from fresh water sources by the building of a causeway by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1959.

Smithson was reportedly attracted to the Rozel Point site because of the stark anti-pastoral beauty and industrial remnants from nearby Golden Spike National Historic Site, as well as an old pier and a few unused oil rigs [Kimmelman, Michael. 13 October, 2002. The New York Times. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=980DE0DF113BF930A25753C1A9649C8B63 "Out of the Deep"] ] . While observing the construction of the piece from a helicopter, Smithson reportedly remarked "et in Utah ego" as a counterpoint to the famous pastoral Baroque painting "et in Arcadia ego" by Nicolas Poussin [Holt, Nancy ed. The Writings of Robert Smithson. New York: New York University Press, 1979.] .

The piece was financed in part by a $9,000 USD grant from the Virginia Dawn Gallery of New York. A 20-year lease for the site was granted for $100 annually.

To move the rock into the lake, Smithson hired contractor Bob Phillips of nearby Ogden, Utah, who used two dump trucks, a large tractor, and a front loader to haul the 6,550 tons of rock and earth into the lake. It is reported that Smithson had a difficult time convincing a local contractor to accept the unusual proposal for the work.

He began work on the jetty in April 1970. Construction took six days.

Smithson died in a plane crash in Texas three years after finishing the jetty [Pagel, Angelika. [http://www.nps.gov/gosp/tour/pagel.html "The Immobile Cyclone: Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty"] ] .

The sculpture is currently owned by the Dia Art Foundation of New York, who acquired the piece by a donation from Smithson's estate in 1999 [The Center for Land Use Interpretation. [http://ludb.clui.org/ex/i/UT3127/ "Spiral Jetty"] ] .


The current exposure of the jetty to the elements and to the ravages of its growing number of visitors has led to a controversy over the preservation of the sculpture. The discoloration of the rocks and the exposure of the lake bed having altered the colors of the original, a proposal has emerged to buttress the sculpture and restore the original colors by the addition of new basalt rocks in the spirit of the original. It is expected that without such additions, the sculpture will be submerged again once the drought is over.

The issue has been complicated by ambiguous statements by Smithson, who expressed an admiration for entropy in that he intended his works to mimic earthly attributes in that they remain in a state of arrested disruption and not be kept from destruction.

In 2008 it was announced that there were plans for exploratory oil drilling approximately five miles from the jetty [Kennedy, Randy. The New York Times. [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/arts/06arts-ARTISTSRALLY_BRF.html "Artists Rally for Spiral Jetty in Utah"] ] . The news was met with strong resistance from nearby artists, and the state of Utah received more than 3,000 e-mails about the plan, most opposing the drilling [Johnson, Kirk. The New York Times, 27 March, 2008. [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/us/27spiral.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin "Plans to Mix Oil Drilling and Art Clash in Utah"] ] .


External links

* [http://www.rudylemcke.com/Pages/VideoPages/SpJettyPg.html Directions to the Jetty]
* [http://scenicutah.com/spiral-jetty/spiraljetty.php Pictures of Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty".]
* [http://www.geocities.com/museumcataloging/movies100.htm Review of Smithson's movie about the Spiral Jetty project.]
* [http://flickr.com/groups/spiraljetty/ Spiral Jetty flickr Group]

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