From the Archives
On Tuesday, February 9, Utah’s House of Representatives will vote on whether to make Robert Smithson’s iconic land art, Spiral Jetty (1970), the state’s official work of art. If the legislation passes, Utah will become the first state to have an official work of art. Today we bring you Danielle Sommer’s reaction to the state’s initial acquisition of the work from the Dia Foundation. This article was originally published on July 6, 2011.
It’s true. The state of Utah now owns Spiral Jetty. For the last decade, the Dia Foundation has paid Utah’s Department of Natural Resources $250 a year to maintain the 20-year lease on the land surrounding the earthwork. In February, the Dia received and paid its annual invoice, only to have the payment returned in June with a note that the lease had expired—a fact that had somehow escaped everyone’s attention, including the DNR’s. According to an article by Jennifer Dobner of the Associated Press, the oversight may have occurred due to the fact that the DNR’s Sovereign Lands coordinator, Dave Grierson—the man who should have sent Dia a notice about the lease renewal—passed away last year. Conspiracy theories about drilling aside, the Dia maintains that it has a “collegial” working relationship with the DNR and that they are in the process of renegotiating the lease. But for the moment, the Jetty belongs to Utah, a fact that has the art community unsettled.
I first visited Spiral Jetty in August 2007, thirty-seven years after Robert Smithson installed it and thirty-four years after his death. I’d heard that the water level was low enough that the jetty was visible again, so I made a point to visit it on my way from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago, Illinois. I’d seen photographs, as well as the film of the construction that Smithson had made with his wife, Nancy Holt, but the physical experience caught me unprepared. Visiting Spiral Jetty in the flesh provides an experience of time unlike any other. Everything seems to halt, even as it remains in motion.