This two minute time-lapsed video takes you from the UMFA to Spiral Jetty, typically a two-and-a-half hour drive.
Robert Smithson's iconic earthwork, Spiral Jetty, takes the form of a 1,500-foot-long and approximately 15-foot-wide coil of basalt rocks that extends into Utah's Great Salt Lake, near Rozel Point. Smithson was one of a number of artists in the late 1960s and 1970s who moved out into the vast, open landscapes of the American West, putting the earth itself to use as an artistic medium. He chose the lake as the site of his monumental sculpture because he was drawn to the reddish hue of the water, caused by microorganisms that thrive in the highly saline environment.
Along with many other artists of his generation, Smithson abandoned the confines of the traditional artist's studio and the creation of discrete objects, favoring a site-specific approach to art, meaning that the work is physically bound to—or has a necessary and specific relationship to—a given site. Spiral Jetty is situated in a particular location—Great Salt Lake—but it is site-specific in other ways, too: the shape of the spiral, for instance, is echoed in the lake's salt crystals, which grow in a spiraling, crystalline formation.
For many years, audiences experienced Spiral Jetty primarily through photographs and Smithson's film, Spiral Jetty (1970). The earthwork was covered by the rising waters of the lake not long after it was built, and it remained submerged for much of its life, a ghostly form just visible beneath the water's surface. In the early 2000s Spiral Jetty reemerged, and the lake has now receded so far from the mainland that visitors can walk between the rings of the spiral if they choose. The ever-changing conditions of the lake and its surrounding landscape are part of what interested Smithson in the site for what would become his most famous work and a landmark of twentieth century art.
Robert Smithson in the UMFA's Permanent Collection
Dia Art Foundation
directions to Spiral Jetty
More about Robert Smithson
Spiral Jetty partnership