Land Art and My Time at the Spiral Jetty

(Click images for larger versions)

Ever seen a piece of land art?  Just read that the L.A. MOCA has an exhibition running through Sept. 3 called “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974“.  It’s accompanied by a pretty cool interactive website that uses Google maps (or earth?) to help you visualize many of the pieces.  You click an artist’s name and it takes you to the location of the work and provides a photo of what they created there.  Check it out.  There’ve been some pretty interesting things done over the years!

Browsing through it today brought back some good memories of a time I had the chance to see the Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.  I was on a road trip around the Pac NW- Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah…pretty much in that order- and I had read about the jetty, knew we’d be going through Salt Lake City and suggested we stop there.  The thing was we were on the tail end of a 3-week trip and the jetty’s not an easy place to get to.  It’s actually pretty far off the beaten path.  And we were pretty beat already.

I was the only one really familiar with it and on the morning we were leaving Salt Lake I told the guys we didn’t have to go since it would be a trek to get there.  Lucky for me, they disagreed and insisted we go.  (And I should thank them again for that the next time I see them.)  I had read that Smithson purposefully chose the location to be difficult to get to.  He wanted the trek there to be as much a part of the experience as the jetty itself.

So you get off the main highway driving north out of Salt Lake City and head quite a ways west until you reach the Golden Spike National Monument, which is a pretty cool piece of American history in and of itself.  If you’re not familiar with that, it’s where the first intercontinental railroads met, and it changed this country forever.  From there you drive a little further until you hit some dirt roads.  At one point you have to drive through private property, but I don’t think anyone’s really out there looking for trespassers, it’s pretty desolate.  It’s suggested you take a four-wheel drive, or at least something with a little clearance.  We were in a Suburu station wagon…four-wheel, but not much clearance.  The dirt road got really rocky in some spots, and we bottomed out a few times.   There was a point when we considered stopping and walking the rest of the way, but we kept pushing that little Suby and just prayed we’d make it.  It had been through a lot on that trip and we figured we might as well see if she could take a little more.  And she did.

I had no idea at the time if the jetty would even be visible.  I had read that over the years as the lake level fluctuated it had been underwater for long stretches.  But when we finally arrived, it was clear we had nothing to worry about….we could walk out to and all around it.

It’s a pretty amazing sight (and site!) and I’ve never seen anything like it since.  The whole notion of art being this massive engineering project is really interesting to me, probably because at one time in my life I worked with a lot of engineers, and I never associated them with art in any way, shape, or form.  I know it’s not fair, but it’s true.  Turns out Smithson was fascinated by the engineering and development process…way, shape, and form…and obviously incorporated it into his art 🙂

Anyway, if you ever have the opportunity to make the trip, I’d highly recommend it.  These are just a few photos from my time there…

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