It has been the fate of a number of twentieth-century artists that the stronger their attacks on the history and traditions of art, the more joy is taken by the guardians of that history and tradition in demonstrating that their work and thought can be incorporated within it. This can be illustrated briefly by juxtaposing Robert Smithson's apparently radical rejections of art history, humanism, biologism and formalism, with some recent attempts to recuperate his work for a tradition. Smithson, you will recall, sought alternatives to museum culture in a series of actual and projected works that aim at effecting a displacement of both the aesthetic object and the Hegelian or art-historical notion of the development or evolution of art as an intelligible succession of styles. The best thing about the museum, he said, is its series of voids or gaps-the absences or empty spaces where the works are not. The displacements may operate with mirrors, as in the series of mirrors he positioned in the Yucatan, or in the transportation of the site into the museum, in which boxes of rocks were exhibited as "non-sites," or it may be effected by the transformation of the earth on a scale dwarfing the museum, as in the Spiral Jetty constructed in the Great Salt Lake or in the plans for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, in which the project was to produce an almost completely marginal and peripheral work that would be appropriate to a culture of speed and the view of a space traveller, that have been displacing customary cultural and visual centers.
Copyright © 1988 Art Digest Inc. This article first appeared in Arts Magazine (New York), Summer 1988, 99-104.
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Shapiro, Gary. "Entropy and Dialectic: The Signatures of Robert Smithson." Arts Magazine (New York), Summer 1988, 99-104.