Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
Back to Reviews 96

Robert Smithson's 
Partially Buried 
Shed, 1970 (top), 
and Green on the 
Kent State campus.

Photo of a Kent 
State demonstration.

The search for 
Smithson's Partially 
Buried Shed.

Installation view, 
"Partially Buried." 

Paperbacks by 
James Michener 
and fragments 
from Partially 
Buried Shed.  

view, "Partially 

renee green 
at pat hearn 

by Robert Mahoney 

Renee Green's archive-like installations--

frequently rich in books and photographs, 

as well as period furniture and historical 

objects--are designed to deconstruct the 

institutional discourses of history and 

art. In her new installation, titled 

"Partially Buried," Green takes on Kent 

State University, in Kent, Ohio, which is 

known for exactly two things, both 

occurring in 1970. First, it was at Kent 

State that Robert Smithson executed 

Partially Buried Shed by pushing a hill of 

dirt halfway onto an old greenhouse on 

campus, and stopping at just the point 

where Smithson felt entropy would take 

over. Second, and more famously, Kent State 

is known as the place where four students 

were killed in an antiwar demonstration on 

May 5, 1970. Green triangulates a charted 

route into the past here by finding a third 

thing that Kent State is known for: James 

Michener, the popular if stodgy novelist 

who wrote the stories upon which the 

musical South Pacific was based, also wrote 

a book called Kent State (a revelation that 

intrigued this long-time sufferer under the 

Michener prosaic regime). By setting one 

memory against another, Green creates a 

subtly deconstructive sense of time and 


The exhibition comes in units. The first 

piece is a set of 20 or so color 

photographs apparently taken by Green 

herself of the Kent State Campus today. In 

these photos, Green searches for traces of 

the events of May 5 as well as for any 

remaining evidence of the Partially Buried 

Shed. Green includes some scenic shots of 

the campus, as if, following tabloid 

mentality, failing to find any real trace 

of the great events, she finds other 

things, for example, local dumps, industry, 

hick restaurants, that Smithson might have 

liked. As it happens, the traces of the 

artwork remain: a few pictures in the 

library, and the foundations of the shed 

deep in the overgrowth. But no plaques, no 

commemorations. Kent State has let its 

history fade into history. (In fact, a 

friend of mine who taught there said the 

Partially Buried Shed was demolished 

without warning or discussion one morning 

in the late `70s or early `80s--thus 

Smithson's textbook example of entropy 

exists only in textbooks now--another case 

of entropy!) 

On the other wall is a series of black-and-

white news photos of the Kent State 

demonstration, which seem at times to focus 

on the involvement of the Black Student 

Union. Green also presents yearbook pages, 

rather than individual pictures, making the 

point that no one could now name the "four 

dead in Ohio." Also, these action shots of 

the demonstration, grainy with the aura of 

history, do not include the most famous 

photograph of the antiwar movement, the 

Pieta to a dead student (you know the one). 

Thus memory here even slips around the only 

image by which the event is kept in the 

newsreel-fed mental catalog of popular 


In the back room Green has a video set-up 

for filming nostalgic interviews, and there 

are a lot of texts. Against a wall, record 

albums shock the purifying impulse of 

memory by reminding us that hip cool 

revolutionaries listened to the rock band 

Bread then as much as Crosby Stills and 

Nash. Of the latter, the lyrics "in 

Soldiers and Nixon coming....four dead in 

Ohio..." plays in the gallery: and here's 

where the memory gets complex.

For me, in 1970 I was still in high school, 

and while I have vivid memories of watching 

on TV the demonstrations at the 1968 

Democratic Convention in Chicago, my recall 

of Kent State is hazy. I clearly remember 

playing on my guitar three-hour versions of 

"Four Dead in Ohio" in my basement rec 

room, but have little memory of the event 

itself. Already, something was fading and 

being lost. Perhaps Kent State itself began 

the downward slide. 

Kent State looks like the Waterloo of the 

antiwar movement. And here is where, oddly, 

I think James Michener comes in. Michener 

was a big old bore of the Postwar 

generation: in truth the Richard Nixon of 

literature. Massive tomes telling histories 

of places by detailing the home lives of 

every dinosaur that trod Texas or Poland 

before the humans even came on the scene. 

After South Pacific came Hawaii. Ugh. By 

the `60s Michener's hold on the best-seller 

list was challenged by the likes of Arthur 

Haley and Irwin Shaw, whose best-sellers 

had sex and drugs and rock `n' roll. 

Michener tried to enter the `60s with The 

Drifters (I remember reading it as, in 

1970, I prided myself on having read at 

least five of ten books on the bestseller 

list at all times). It was pathetic, awful, 

like Richard Nixon trying to look casually 

thoughtful a la Jack Kennedy on a beach, 

only Nixon kept on his blue suit and black 

dress shoes. So Michener did Kent State as 

if he were Norman Mailer, imitating Armies 

of the Night. I disliked Michener almost as 

much as I hated Nixon, the devil incarnate 

of liberal kids then. But I read all of 


So: memory: it all depends on your 

perspective, age-wise. We get the point: 

Michener is the point man to show how a 

memory can be skewed by oblique involvement 

in events. My memory is equally oblique, 

and impatient with the pieties of the head 

Baby Boomers, the ones now turning 50, 

whose shadow has made life for all coming 

after skeptical about politics. Not only

has Kent State itself "partially buried" 

its history (someday it will have to play 

it up for the tourists), everything has 

disappeared with the entropy of time and 

history. Even Nixon is gone. But if, 

approaching 50 (or approaching 45, or 40), 

you want to stir it all up again, but 

sadly, this is the place to be, man. If you 

are younger, too bad, it's all ancient 


Renee Green, "Partially Buried," Oct. 19-

Nov. 24, 1996, at Pat Hearn, 530 West 22nd 

Street, New York, NY 10011.

ROBERT MAHONEY is an art critic.