ART: ROBERT SMITHSON Spiral Jetty
Constructed in 1970, Spiral Jetty is arguably the central work of American sculptor Robert Smithson, and isindisputably a masterpiece which maintains a reputation as one of the world’s icons of Earthworks.
Built of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide, counter-clockwise coil jutting from the shore which is only visible when the water level falls below an elevation of 4,197.8 feet.
At the time of its construction the water level of the lake was unusually low because of drought. However, after Smithson died (1973, three years after Jetty's completion), heavy rains and floods raised the water level in the Great Salt Lake, obscuring the spiral from view. That is until 2004 when, after nearly 30 years under water, the Spiral became visible again as the result of drought. Throngs of art lovers traveled to view it, however it was no longer a massive coil of black boulders, but white with encrusted salt layers from the Lake.
Today, the spiral is under a new threat. According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Dia Art Foundation, the New York-based arts organization who received control over Spiral Jetty from the Smithson Estate, hasn’t been making the annual payments on the ten acres of land under the work. The Department of Natural Resources stated that Dia had failed to renew the 20-year lease when it ran out in February 2011 so they sent Dia a letter indicating that the lease had run out and would not be renewed.
Dia denies that they were late renewing their lease, stating that they had paid every annual invoice, but that the death of the State Sovereign Lands Coordinator in 2010 buried all the paperwork. Now, as the Department of Natural Resources chases the paper trail, a Utah-based group called The Jetty Foundation has applied for the lease on Spiral Jetty.
With no responsible party to maintain the artwork, as of late June 2011 once again Spiral Jetty sits submerged under runoff from record snowpack and now mired in red tape.