Smithson, Robert

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Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was the pioneer of land and earthworks art. He was also a noted sculptor, painter, writer, and lecturer working primarily in New York City. Smithson's wife, Nancy Holt (1938-) was a noted sculptor and filmmaker and also worked as an earthworks artist.

Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Smithson expressed an early interest in art, enrolling in classes at the Brooklyn Museum School and the Art Student's League in New York while still attending high school. Smithson's early works were primarily paintings, drawings, and collages. In 1959, he exhibited his first solo show of paintings at the Artists' Gallery in New York and had his first solo international show in Rome with the Galleria George Lester in 1961.

During the early to mid-1960s, Smithson was perhaps better known as a writer and art critic, writing numerous essays and reviews for Arts Magazine and Artforum . He became affiliated with artists who were identified with the minimalist movement, such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Nancy Holt, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris and others. In 1963, Smithson married sculptor and filmmaker Nancy Holt and a year later started to create his first sculptural works. In 1966, Smithson joined the Dwan Gallery, whose owner Virginia Dwan was an enthusiastic supporter of his work.

Smithson's interest in land art began in the late 1960s while exploring industrial and quarry sites and observing the movement of earth and rocks. This resulted in a series of sculptures called "non-sites" consisting of earth and rocks collected from a specific site and installed in gallery space, often combined with photographs, maps, mirrors, or found materials. In September 1968, Smithson published the essay "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects" in Artforum that promoted the work of the first wave of land art artists. Soon thereafter, he began creating his own large scale land art and earthworks.

From 1967 to 1973, Smithson's productivity was constant as he wrote, lectured, and participated in several solo and group shows a year, both at home and abroad. He explored narrative art as essay in "The Monuments of Passaic" and fully committed to his idea of visiting sites and using them as the basis for creating non-sites, Non-Site, Pine Barrens, (1968); incorporated and documented the use of mirrors at sites in Mirror Displacement, Cayuga Salt Mine Project (1968-1969); and created his first site-specific works through liquid pours of mud, asphalt, and concrete, including Asphalt Rundown (1969). In 1969, he also completed his first earth pour at Kent State University with his project Partially Buried Woodshed . Later that year, he created the sculptural artwork for which he is best known, Spiral Jetty (1969) on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This was the first of his pieces to require the acquisition of land rights and earthmoving equipment, and would be followed two years later by Broken Circle and Spiral Hill in 1971.

On July 20, 1973, while surveying sites in Texas for the proposed Amarillo Ramp, Smithson died in a plane crash at the age of 35. Despite his early death, Smithson's writings and artwork had a major impact on many contemporary artists.

Nancy Holt began her career as a photographer and video artist. Today, Holt is most widely known for her large-scale environmental works, Sun Tunnels and Dark Star Park . Holt has also made a number of films and videos since the late 1960s, including Mono Lake (1968), East Coast, West Coast (1969), and Swamp (1971) in collaboration with her late husband Robert Smithson. Points of View: Clocktower (1974) features conversations between Lucy Lippard and Richard Serra, Liza Bear and Klaus Kertess, Carl Andre and Ruth Kligman and Bruce Brice and Tina Girouard. In 1978, she produced a film about her seminal work Sun Tunnels .

From the guide to the Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987, bulk 1952-1987, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was a sculptor and lecturer. His wife, Nancy Holt, is a sculptor and filmmaker.

From the description of Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82962536

Sculptor and lecturer; b. 1938; d. 1973.

From the description of Robert Smithson interviews, 1972 July 14 - July 19 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81787113

American sculptor and lecturer who was born in 1938 and died in 1973. His wife, Nancy Holt, is a sculptor and filmaker.

From the description of Drawings, 1969-1970. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122443246

Smithson was a sculptor, painter, New York, N.Y. Born 1938. Died 1973.

From the description of Robert Smithson letters to George B. Lester, 1960-1963. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84170045

Sculptor, New York, N.Y; Born 1938, Died 1973. Tony Robbin, the interviewer is a writer, painter and sculptor.

From the description of Robert Smithson interview, 1968. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82429450

Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was a sculptor and lecturer.

From the description of Oral history interview with Robert Smithson, 1972 July 14-19 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 495595100

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Smithson, Robert : [photography bio file]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Smithson, Robert,. Oral history interview with Robert Smithson, 1972 July 14-19 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Artists' Gallery (New York, N.Y). Artists' Gallery records, 1936-1966. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Smithson, Robert, 1938-1973. Spiral Jetty. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
referencedIn Dwan Gallery (New York, N.Y.). Dwan Gallery (Los Angeles, Calif. and New York, N.Y.) records, 1959-1971. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Robert Smithson letters to George B. Lester, 1960-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Gorgoni, Gianfranco. Photographs of earthworks / Gianfranco Gorgoni. Getty Research Institute, Research Library
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Drawings, 1969-1970. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Robert Smithson interview, 1968. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Hutchinson, Peter A., 1930-. Peter Hutchinson interview, 1967 Jul. 27 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Dwan, Virginia. Oral history interview with Virginia Dwan, 1984 Mar. 21-June 7. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Dwan Gallery records, 1959 - circa 1982, bulk 1959-1971 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
creatorOf Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987, bulk 1952-1987 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Smithson, Robert, 1938-1973 : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Smithson, Robert, 1938-1973. Spiral Jetty [Multimédia multisupport]. Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF
creatorOf SMITHSON, ROBERT. Franklin Furnace artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
referencedIn Robert Smithson : vertical file. Centre canadien d'architecture, | Canadian Centre for Architecture | CCA
referencedIn Alloway, Lawrence, 1926-1990. Lawrence Alloway papers, 1935-2003. Getty Research Library
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
creatorOf SMITHSON, ROBERT. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
referencedIn Smithson, Robert : Biographical file. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
referencedIn Lawrence Alloway papers, 1935-2003 The Getty Research Institute
referencedIn Dwan, Virginia. Oral history interview with Virginia Dwan, 1984 Mar. 21-June 7. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Aldrich, Larry,. Oral history interview with Larry Aldrich, 1972 Apr. 25-June 10 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Smithson, Robert. Robert Smithson interviews, 1972 July 14 - July 19 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Dwan, Virginia. Virginia Dwan interviews, 1984 Mar. 21 - June 7. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Righter, James V. (James Volney). Illustrated journal/sketchbook, 2005 Feb. 24-2006 Feb. 28. Boston Athenaeum
referencedIn Hutchinson, Peter A., 1930-. Oral history interview with Peter Hutchinson, 1967 July 27. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Smithson, Robert W. Robert W. Smithson photograph collection. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Aldrich, Larry, person
associatedWith Alloway, Lawrence, 1926- person
associatedWith Alloway, Lawrence, 1926-1990. person
associatedWith Andre, Carl, 1935- person
associatedWith Andre, Carl, 1935- person
associatedWith Artists' Gallery (New York, N.Y) corporateBody
associatedWith Atkinson, Terry, 1939- person
associatedWith Cummings, Paul, person
associatedWith Dibbets, Jan, 1941- person
associatedWith Dwan Gallery corporateBody
associatedWith Dwan Gallery (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dwan Gallery (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dwan, Virginia person
associatedWith Dwan, Virginia person
associatedWith Flavin, Dan, 1933- person
associatedWith George Lester Gallery (Rome, Italy) corporateBody
associatedWith Gorgoni, Gianfranco. person
associatedWith Graham, Dan, 1942- person
associatedWith Haacke, Hans, 1936- person
associatedWith Heizer, Michael, 1944- person
associatedWith Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art corporateBody
associatedWith Holt, Nancy, 1938- person
associatedWith Holt, Nancy, 1938- person
associatedWith Hutchinson, Peter A., 1930- person
associatedWith Insley, Will, 1929-2011 person
associatedWith Jenney, Neil, 1945- person
associatedWith Johnson, Ray, 1927- person
associatedWith Judd, Donald, 1928- person
associatedWith Kepes, Gyorgy, 1906-2001 person
associatedWith Kepes, Gyorgy, 1906-2001. person
associatedWith Lester, George B. person
associatedWith LeWitt, Sol, 1928-2007 person
associatedWith LeWitt, Sol, 1928-2007. person
associatedWith Lippard, Lucy R. person
associatedWith Long, Richard, 1945- person
associatedWith Oppenheim, Dennis, 1938- person
associatedWith Oppenheim, Dennis, 1938-2011 person
associatedWith Righter, James V. (James Volney) person
associatedWith Robbin, Tony person
associatedWith United States. Army. Depot Brigade, 166th. Company, 43rd corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Field Artillery Battalion, 15th corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 3rd corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 3rd. Band corporateBody
associatedWith Valledor, Leo person
associatedWith Wheeler, Dennis person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (State)--New York
Del Rio (Tex.)
New York (State)--New York
Eagle Pass (Tex.)
United States
Italy--Rome
New York (State)--New York
New York (State)--New York
New York (State)--New York
Mexican-American Border Region
Texas
Subject
Art--Study and teaching
Sculptors--Interviews
Filmmakers--New York (State)--New York
Soldiers--Recreation
Conceptual artists--Interviews
Painters
Band musicians--Photographs
Art galleries, Commercial
Painters--Interviews
Sculpture
Sculpture, Modern--20th century
Filmmakers
Arts
Sculptors--New York (State)--New York
Sculptors
Art--Philosophy
Painting, Modern--20th century
Environmental artists--Interviews
Earthworks (Art)
Authors--New York (State)--New York
Occupation
Sculptors
Photographers
Poets
Artists
Function

Person

Birth 1938-01-02

Death 1973-07-20

Americans

English

Information

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SNAC ID: 83575731