Spiral Jetty: quaking landscape into spinning stillness

A curl of mud, salt crystals and rocks. A repeated process or sub and re-emergence. A statement on the nature of perpetual disorder.


An earthwork sculpture built by Robert Smithson in the Great Salt Lake only reemerges during drought

Built  in 1970 of mud, salt crystals, basalt, and dirt, the Spiral Jetty is 1500 feet long and extends far out into the Great Salt Lake.

However no one saw this work for over 30 years. Built during a drought by Robert Smithson, once the water levels returned to normal the spiral was then submerged for three decades, reemerging during a drought in 2004.

The black basalt rocks are now covered with white salt encrustations, and the water has a pink hue to it. The jetty disappears if the lake level is higher than 4,197 feet, and currently the jetty is again in danger of disappearing once again.

There is a plan to restore the jetty, but not everyone agrees with the plan. The sculptor, who died in a plane crash only three years after completing the jetty, expressed a love of entropy and the eroding powers of nature. His project is part of a late 60s sculptural movement known as “Land Art.”

It is likely Smithson would have been very happy with the jetty’s disappearing act and changing appearance.

Image result for spiral jetty


Iconic ‘Spiral Jetty’ Voted Utah’s Official State Work of Land Art

The artwork, created in 1970 by Smithson, is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide. The counterclockwise spiral juts out of Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Smithson used over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site. In 1999, the artwork was donated to New York’s Dia Art Foundation by Smithson’s wife, artist Nancy Holt, and his estate.

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Peter Knudson (R-Brigham City), called the work an “amazing structure.” He urged his Senate colleagues to not only support the bill, but also to visit Spiral Jetty. “When the lake is dry, you can walk out there and experience the artwork. The point is for you to become part of the art,” Knudson said.

Representative Christine Watkins (R-Price), House sponsor of the rock art bill, told the Tribune that Utah has some of the oldest rock art in America, including its only authentic ice age art: two panels near Bluff depicting mammoths. “They are at least 12,500 calendar years old, [proving] the co-existence between paleo Americans and ice age [plants and animals]. This alone makes Utah one of the most important rock art theaters in the Western hemisphere,” said Watkins.

Smithson created the work when water levels were particularly low and Spiral Jetty was subsequently submerged in 1972. Droughts caused the lake to recede in 2002, and the sculpture has remained visible ever since, according to the Dia website. “I like landscapes that suggest prehistory,” Smithson once said. The landscape, changing water levels, and the salinity of the lake “speak of the artist’s preoccupation with the concept of entropy, ” according to  Dia. The artist envisioned “an artwork in a state of constant transformation whose form is never fixed and undergoes decay from the moment of its creation.”

Robert Smithson, <em>Spiral Jetty</em> (1970). Photo: George Steinmetz, © Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

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