Artforum Robert Smithson Review

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Robert Smithson

1717 North Harwood
November 24–April 24


Robert Smithson, Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport Layout Plan: Wandering Earth Mounds and Gravel Paths, 1966, pencil, crayon, paper, 11 x 14”.

Few artists are as universally known for a single work of art as Robert Smithson is for Spiral Jetty, 1970. Yet this art-historical hallmark wouldn’t have existed had Smithson not been commissioned to create a site-specific installation for the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 1966. With this project at hand, Smithson was inspired to imagine flying in airplanes as the primary vantage to see his proposed sculptural experiments, proving a key turning point in the artist’s conception of monumental works executed with and in the landscape. Except for the posthumously constructedAmarillo Ramp, 1973, this small exhibition pays homage to five of the artist’s unrealized artworks in various locales around Texas.

Earth Window, 1966, which was designed as several horizontal square holes excavated and filled with baseball-stadium lights, then covered with crushed glass, would have glittered like a disco ball radiating from the earth. Dallas‐Fort Worth Regional Airport Layout Plan: Wandering Earth Mounds and Gravel Paths, 1966, which as the title suggests is carefully arranged dirt mounds and rock trails, appears as meandering burial mounds. With Island of Sulfur (Dollar Bay), 1970, Smithson envisioned a dramatic film project documenting numerous dump trucks moving boulders of sulfur from a quarry to a barge, finally to deposit their neon yellow loads, overwhelming the small Dollar Bay Island.

In its totality, Smithson’s work embodies a kind of hubris, not unlike the ancient desire to be monumentalized via ostentatious architectural edifices. The difference between the Egyptian pyramids, for instance, and Smithson’s proposals is the intended audience. Smithson understood art as an active force in the world that can alter the substance and comprehension of human situations, place, and possibilities. Not surprisingly, the mood of this exhibition is reverently melancholy; one can’t help but feel the divide between the hastily drawn plans on various sheets of paper and the heroic vision they were ultimately meant to become.

— Matthew Bourbon

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