Leave feedback
Loading search results
About us
The Art Story Homepage Artists Robert Smithson
Robert Smithson Photo

Robert Smithson

American Sculptor and Writer

Movements and Styles: Land Art, Post-Minimalism

Born: January 2, 1938 - Passaic, New Jersey

Died: July 20, 1973 - Amarillo, Texas

Robert Smithson Timeline

"I am for an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day apart from representation."

Robert Smithson Signature

Summary of Robert Smithson

Although Robert Smithson died at the age of only 35, his short career has inspired more young artists than most among the generation that emerged in the 1960s. A formidable writer and critic as well as an artist, his interests ranged from Catholicism to mineralogy to science fiction. His earliest pieces were paintings and collages, but he soon came to focus on sculpture; he responded to the Minimalism and Conceptualism of the early 1960s and he started to expand his work out of galleries and into the landscape. In 1970, he produced the Earthwork, or Land art, for which he is best known, Spiral Jetty, a remarkable coil of rock composed in the colored waters of the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. In 1973, he died in an aircraft accident when he was surveying the site for another Earthwork in Texas.

Key Ideas

Smithson is one of the most influential artists of the diverse generation that emerged in the wake of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, known as the Post-Minimalists. Although inspired by Minimalism's use of industrial materials and interest in the viewer's experience of the space around the art object (as much as the object itself), the Post-Minimalists sought to abandon even more aspects of traditional sculpture. Smithson's approaches are typical of this group; he constructed sculptures from scattered materials, he found ways to confuse the viewer's understanding of sculpture (often by using mirrors or confusing scales), and his work sometimes referred to sites and objects outside of the gallery, leading the viewer to question where the art object really resided.
Much of Smithson's output was shaped by his interest in the concept of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics that predicts the eventual exhaustion and collapse of any given system. His interest in geology and mineralogy confirmed this law to him, since in rocks and rubble he saw evidence of how the earth slows and cools. But the idea also informed his outlook on culture and civilization more generally; his famous essay Entropy and the New Monuments (1969) draws analogies between the quarries and the strip malls and tract housing of New Jersey, suggesting that ultimately the later will also perish and return to rubble.
Smithson's concepts of Site and Nonsite - the former being a location outside the gallery, the latter being a body of objects and documentation inside the gallery - were important contributions to the body of ideas surrounding Land art in the 1960s. His discussion of monuments and ruins in his writing also helped many to think about the purpose art might have in the landscape, after the demise of the tradition of commemorative public sculpture.
Robert Smithson Photo

Robert Smithson expressed a profound interest in the arts from an early age. While still attending high school in Clifton, New Jersey, during the mid 1950s, he attended art classes on the side in New York City. For two years, he was enrolled at The Art Students League in New York and, for a briefer period, at The Brooklyn Museum School.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Robert Smithson
Interactive chart with Robert Smithson's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Allan KaprowAllan Kaprow
Donald JuddDonald Judd
William S. BurroughsWilliam S. Burroughs
J.G. BallardJ.G. Ballard

Personal Contacts

Virginia DwanVirginia Dwan
Carl AndreCarl Andre
Claes OldenburgClaes Oldenburg
Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Nancy HoltNancy Holt

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
HappeningsHappenings
Landscape ArchitectureLandscape Architecture
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Robert Smithson
Robert Smithson
Years Worked: 1959 - 1973
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Walter de MariaWalter de Maria
Richard LongRichard Long
Hans HaackeHans Haacke
Michael HeizerMichael Heizer

Personal Contacts

Carl AndreCarl Andre
Claes OldenburgClaes Oldenburg
Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Richard SerraRichard Serra
Nancy HoltNancy Holt

Movements

Land ArtLand Art
Landscape ArchitectureLandscape Architecture
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 01 Aug 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
[Accessed ]