Thursday, September 01, 2005

Danto on Smithson

Read The American Sublime by Arthur Danto.
One of the most famous works of art in America, Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty transcends the "earth art" genre to which critics have consigned it, and has become an emblem of the American sublime. It is made of black basalt boulders, bulldozed into a straight line that stretches, jetty-like, 1,500 feet from the eastern shore in the upper reaches of the Great Salt Lake, terminating in a spiral with three whorls. From the air it has the look of a bishop's crosier with an unusually ornamental crook. It has a way of disappearing and reappearing, which somehow gives it a touch of magic. Soon after it was made, it was submerged beneath the saline water that gives the lake its name, and on re-emerging at a later time, when the water-level fell, it was covered with a dense patina of salt crystals. It is reached with difficulty, requiring a trek over rutted roads, and there is no guarantee that it will be visible when one gets there; I failed to see it on the two occasions I made the attempt. So the work is as elusive as it is compelling, and though it belongs to its moment in history, it also has the timeless air of some ancient monument left behind by a vanished civilization.

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