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 Robert I. Smithson  (1938 - 1973)

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About: Robert I. Smithson


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Lived/Active: Texas/Utah/New Jersey      Known for: earthworks, concept-site sketches

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BIOGRAPHY for Robert Smithson
1938 (Passaic, New Jersey)
1973 (Amarillo, Texas)

Texas/Utah/New Jersey

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earthworks, concept-site sketches

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known as one of the major innovative artists of the 20th century because of his earthworks and his views on the definition of art, Robert Smithson is frequently associated in people's minds with Spiral Jetty, a 1970 earthwork that is a 1,500 foot coil of earth and black basalt extending into Utah's Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point 48 miles from Salt Lake City.   However, shortly after its installation, the work disappeared because it was covered by rising water levels and remained hidden until the 21st century when drought caused the water to recede. 

In May, 1999, he was featured in ARTNews magazine as one of the top twenty-five most influential artists of the 20th-century western world. Of him it was written that although he lived only 35 years, he "offhandedly generated more ideas in the dozen or so years he was active than most people do in a lifetime."

He was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and he and his family moved to Clifton, New Jersey when he was ten.  He studied at the Art Student's League in Manhattan while finishing high school.  In the Army Reserves in 1956, he became the artist-in-residence for the Army station at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

In 1959, he had his first exhibit of expressionist painting, and from there went on to do much writing about art in magazines, to create monumental structures in geographically remote areas, and to challenge museums' traditional views about exhibiting art.  One of his earthworks was at Kent State University where he piled dirt on top of a dilapidated building on the campus until the weight caused the ceiling to collapse.  It was both an exercise in physics and a comment on the state of modern society.

He was killed in an airplane accident in 1973 while surveying the site for Amarillo Ramp in Texas.

Sources include:
ARTnews, May 1999
A&A Update, Editors, Art & Antiques, Summer 2006

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