I have a new art crush. The more I hear about him the more I want to know. Renowned American earthwork artist Robert Smithson died way too young in 1973, but in that short 35 years he managed to secure himself a position as one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. Robert Smithson: Time Crystals is the first exhibition in Australia dedicated to his work which opened at UQ Art Museum Brisbane, running 10th March until 8th July 2018.
Like contemporaries that die in the full flame of their flight, his memory and legend live on, still containing so much promise and possibility. Curator Professor Chris McAuliffe explained his influence and Rockstar charisma came from him being the whole package not just a producer of a piece of art sitting on a plinth. “Smithson showed the world how to be a different artist in a new way, he was across making sculptures, movies, lectures, writing and partying.” His final bar tab which is in the show is as testament to this being an impressive US$997.97 in 1973.
Co-curator on the show Dr Amelia Barikin went onto say “There is stuff in here (the exhibition) that he made in his late 20s then he died when he was 35, there was this really intense prolific maker, thinker and doer and he motivated a lot people just to get with it.”
POPSART: Full interview with Chris McAuliffe and Amelia Barikin opening night
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. Inspired by ideas of crystalline geometry and non-biological time, he redefined abstraction and challenged art history, declaring that ‘Nature gives way to the incalculable cycles of nonduration.’
His most famous work is Spiral Jetty an earthwork sculpture constructed in April 1970 and documented in a 32-minute colour film also titled Spiral Jetty. Built on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah made entirely of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks, Spiral Jetty forms a 1,500-foot-long (460 m), 15-foot-wide (4.6 m) counter clockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake.
As McAuliffe enthusiastically explained about this monumental feat “He (Smithson) wound up the guys with the bulldozer and the woman that’s going to give you the money and the state government’s that’s going to give you the lease.” Barikin adding with a laugh “He just stood around in his leather pants and directed people.”
See what I mean, a total dude!
The curators enthusiasm is contagious for this exciting show as it’s the first time there has been this much work on display by Robert Smithson in Australia. You get to see it in detail not just multiple art works, but films, lectures, notes, diaries and the guests list to one of his exhibition openings.
Make a date with this man and get absorbed into his life and work at UQ Art Museum, Brisbane from 10 March to 8 July 2018.