Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson ( January 2, 1938 in Passaic, New Jersey; † 20 July 1973 in New Mexico) was an American painter and land art artists.


Smithson began his artistic training or as a high school student at the age of fifteen years, with studies at the Art Students League in New York, which he continued as he studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1956. After his military service, he traveled in 1957 by the United States to Mexico. During this time, he drew and painted pictures in the style of abstract expressionism. In 1961 he went to Rome, where he became interested in psychology, religion and Byzantine art. 1963 married Robert Smithson, the artist Nancy Holt. His work after 1964 changed, he was still, but he understood now as a sculptor. His objects in the landscape he designed with mirrors, broken glass, neon tubes, asphalt and stones. From elements of his art locations ( sites) in the countryside, he constructed objects ( nonsites ) in galleries.

Robert Smithson was killed in a plane crash over Amarillo Ramp in New Mexico at the age of 35 years.


Between 1965 and 1966, he met a number of minimalist artists know. With some of these artists such as Carl Andre, Dan Graham, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Robert Morris, and Claes Oldenburg he undertook in New Jersey excursions. During these excursions, or trips to Nevada and California, he began to collect material for his nonsites, collages made ​​of earth and stones from a specific area, which he partly combined with glass or mirror glass, as sculptures in art galleries, preferably first in Virginia Dwan in New York, exhibited.

In 1968 he traveled to Germany, where he visited the Ruhr together with Bernd Becher. In the same year he published in Artforum his essay A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects, where it comes to principles of land art. From 1969 he began the system of land art works of art, the concept of which were influenced by his reading of William S. Burroughs and the science fiction author JG Ballard. In March 1969 he participated in Harald Szeemanns as legendary ' designated exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form ( When Attitudes Become form) in the Kunsthalle Bern in part. The exhibition then traveled by Kunsthalle Bern to the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Also in 1969 that he made with Nancy Holt, the video East Coast, West Coast. In the same year he traveled to England, where he visited Stonehenge and other archaeological places of interest. In January 1970, he laid on the campus of Kent State University in its artificial ruin Partially Buried Woodshed, half of earth buried shed, which is now overgrown with grass.

In the same year he began work at the Spiral Jetty in Utah, his best known work. The still existing Spiral Jetty is a 500 foot-long spiral of stones, earth, salt and red algae that Smithson had created in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The artwork consists of a shallow dam, which emanates from the lake shore and then curls up in the anti -clockwise in a spiral. Smithson constructed the object at extremely low water level, but usually the spiral is flooded and only visible from the plane. The creation of this work of art is documented in a film, the Smithson has turned with Bob Fiore and Barbara Jarvis.

In 1972, Robert Smithson participant in Documenta 5 in Kassel in the Department of Individual Mythologies: Video.

Posthumous exhibitions

In 1982, Smithson's works have been exhibited in the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In the same year, the first retrospective took place, which was the Musée d' art moderne de la Ville de Paris organized. As a result, his work in museums and major galleries in Copenhagen, New York, Washington, Lucerne, London and others were issued. The second retrospective was held from 1992 to 1994 in Marseille, Brussels and Valencia.

On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Broken Circle and Spiral Hill plant from 1971 to 2011 in Emmen Netherlands hosted the local Centrum Beeldende Art Emmen in the fall of 2011, a large-scale exhibition to which completed the video in 1971, begun by Nancy Holt for the work with a Dutch team in 2011 been.

Art Theory

Smithson has repeatedly engaged in art-theoretical questions throughout his artistic career. In his writings he deals with the relationship between artwork and environment, he developed his theories about sites and nonsites. Sites he cites works that have been produced for a very specific place, while nonsites can find their place in any location, for example in a gallery or a museum. Example of a site is the Spiral Jetty, while nonsites may consist of photographs that will be exhibited in a gallery, and in its immediate vicinity are things or elements derived from the photographed places, such as stones, shells or sand.

Smithson published art criticism and art theory were published by his wife, Nancy Holt, unpublished work later by Eugenie Tsai. Smithson had his first solo exhibition in 1959, but comprehensively the early work has been exhibited and published in 1985.


  • Nancy Holt ( ed.): The writings of Robert Smithson. New York University Press, New York 1979, ISBN 0-8147-3395-6.
  • Eugenie Tsai: Robert Smithson unearthed, Drawings, collages, writings. Columbia University Press, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-231-07258-9.
  • Eva Schmidt, Kai Voeckler (ed.) Robert Smithson - Collected Writings. König, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-88375-388-2.
  • Eva Schmidt ( eds.): Robert Smithson: The invention of the landscape. Exhibition catalog Museum of Contemporary Art Siegen, March 4-May 28, 2012 Snoeck Verlag, 2012
  • Ingrid Commandeur and Trudy van Riemsdijk Zandee: Robert Smithson: Art in Continual Movement. Alauda Publications, Amsterdam ( 2012), ISBN sehepunkte 978-90-815314-8-1 review