Robert Smithson  (American, 1938-1973) 

Robert Smithson (American, 1938–1973) was a painter and sculptor best known for his mature Land Art pieces, such as Spiral Jetty (1970). Smithson grew up in New Jersey, and moved to New York in the 1950s to study at the Art Students’ League and the Brooklyn Museum School. His early paintings and collages were expressionistic in style, and mimic the bejeweled aesthetic of Byzantine art, while referencing a variety of sources drawn from natural history, science, and religion. Smithson married sculptor Nancy Louise Holt (American, b.1938) in 1963, a union that encouraged the artist to create his own sculptures. His earliest sculptures were influenced by Minimalism, and used geometric forms and mirrors that were occasionally juxtaposed with natural specimens, such as crushed shells and petrified coral. In the 1970s, Smithson began creating Non-Site works, abstracted versions of three-dimensional spaces. In these pieces, actual sites are mapped out topographically with additional artistic abstraction and ingenuity, creating a new work of both the record of the actual site and the viewer’s interpretation of the diagram. After working with representing sites in gallery settings, Smithson’s interest in Land Art piqued and he began to work directly with architectural and natural sites. He created a variety of site-specific works, which he referred to as his earthworks, acquiring critical attention and publicity through his Spiral Jetty project. Spiral Jetty was constructed from earth, rubble, and salt, and juts out from Rozel Point into Utah’s Great Salt Lake. In 1973, Smithson was killed in a plane crash while documenting his Amarillo Ramp earthwork in Texas.

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Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty


Robert Smithson
Spiral Jetty

G Fine Art
Past auction results (173)  View All
Robert Smithson, Mangrove, ring summer land key


Robert Smithson
Mangrove, ring summer land key, 1971
pencil on paper


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Robert Smithson, Dark Sister


Robert Smithson
Dark Sister, 1961
gouache on paper


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Robert Smithson, Untitled (Archangel Michael and the Dragon)


Robert Smithson
Untitled (Archangel Michael and the Dragon), 1960
oil on canvas


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1938   Born in Passaic, New Jersey
1953   Wins scholarship to the Art Students League in New York
1956   Studies at the Brooklyn Museum School
1959   Taught art at the Police Athletic League in New York and had his first solo exhibition at the Artists Gallery in New York
1970   Begins the construction of large site-specific earth work - Spiral Jetty
1973   Died July 20th in Amarillo, Texas
2004 - 2005   Robert Smithson Retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
2003   Robert Smithson in Vancouver: A Fragment of a Greater Fragmentation, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada
2003   Rundown co-organization, American Academy in Rome, Italy
2001   Robert Smithson: Mapping Dislocations, James Cohan Gallery, New York
2000   Robert Smithson, Kunsthalle Wein am Karlsplatz, Austria
1999   Language to be looked at And/or Things to be Read, James Cohan Gallery, New York
1999   Robert Smithson Retrospective: Works 1956-1973, The National Museum of Contemporary Art
1997   Robert Smithson: Dead Tree, Pierogi 2000, Brooklyn, New York
1997   Issues of Entropy: Robert Smithson
1996   Galleria Emi Fontana, Milan, Italy
1995   Robert Smithson Early WorksL Paintings, Drawing, Collage, Lawrence Markey, New York
1995   Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty, Hotel Palenque, Kunst-Werke Berlin, Germany
1995   Robert Smithson: Operations on Nature, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
1995   Photographs – Robert Smithson, John Weber Gallery, New York
1993   Robert Smithson Photoworks, County Museum of Los Angeles, New York
1991   Robert Smithson, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
1991   Robert Smithson John Weber Gallery, New York
1991   Robert Smithson Unearthed: Works on Paper 1957-1973, September 11 - October 26, 1991, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, New York.
1990   Dibujos (1960-1973) Galeria La Maquina Espanela, Madrid
1989   Robert Smithson: Drawings, Salama-Caro Gallery, London
1988   Robert Smithson: Early Works, Marlene Eleini Gallery
1987   Robert Smithson Non-Sites, John Weber Gallery, New York
1986   Early Works: Collage, International with Monument, New York
1985   Robert Smithson, Middendorf Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1984   Robert Smithson, Louisianna Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark
1957   Robert Smithson, December 1957, Alan Brilliant Gallery, 1265 Park Avenue, New York, New York.
   Eugenie Tsai, Robert Smithson Unearthed: Drawings, Collages, Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991) illustration 2.