Robert Smithson


    THE FOLLOWING CONVERSATION with Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt was recorded on June 5, 1973, at the loft they shared on Greenwich Street. It was the last time I saw Bob, who died in a plane crash in Texas six weeks later. (Nancy has been my neighbor in Galisteo, New Mexico, since 1995.) I was writing my book on Eva Hesse at the time and was taping interviews with mutual friends and other people close to her. I was struggling with how to write this book on someone I had known so well—how to concentrate on the art without denying the life, and without letting the life overwhelm the art. Sol LeWitt, Eva’s best friend, was a constantly no-nonsense adviser on how to go about it. While I originally wanted to do a “smooth” edit of this text, Holt and the editors of Artforum persuaded me to leave it “rough,” as a kind of (embarrassing) time capsule. And so it stands.

    LUCY LIPPARD: Mel [Bochner] mentioned a summer when you all saw a lot of each other.

    ROBERT SMITHSON: I think it was ’66, because that was when I wrote my article “Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space,” where I included Eva.

    NANCY HOLT: It’s true. We saw each other about four, sometimes five times a week. We went to Max’s [Kansas City] a lot, ate a lot at an Italian restaurant with Sol. I remember by the end of the summer Bob didn’t want to see an Italian dish ever again.

    LL: When did you meet Eva? Do you remember?

    RS: I think it must have been ’66. Sol introduced me to her.

    NH: I remember exactly

  • Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape

    The landscape-architect André formerly in charge of the suburban plantations of Paris, was walking with me through the Buttes-Chaumont Park, of which he was the designer, when I said of a certain passage of it, “That, to my mind, is the best piece of artificial planting of its age, I have ever seen.” He smiled and said, “Shall 1 confess that it is the result of neglect?”
    ––Frederick Law Olmsted, The Spoils Of The Park

    IMAGINE YOURSELF IN CENTRAL PARK one million years ago. You would be standing on a vast ice sheet, a 4,000-mile glacial wall, as much as 2,000 feet thick. Alone on the vast glacier,

  • Cultural Confinement

    CULTURAL CONFINEMENT TAKES PLACE when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits. Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories. Some artists imagine they’ve got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold of them. As a result, they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control. Artists themselves are not confined, but their output is. Museums, like asylums and jails, have wards and cells—in other words, neutral rooms called “galleries.” A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and

  • A Cinematic Atopia

    GOING TO THE CINEMA results in an immobilization of the body. Not much gets in the way of one’s perception. All one can do is look and listen. One forgets where one is sitting. The luminous screen spreads a murky light throughout the darkness. Making a film is one thing, viewing a film another. Impassive, mute, still the viewer sits. The outside world fades as the eyes probe the screen. Does it matter what film one is watching? Perhaps. One thing all films have in common is the power to take perception elsewhere. As I write this, I’m trying to remember a film I liked, or even one I didn’t like.

  • Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan

    Of the Mayan ideas on the forms of the earth we know little. The Aztec thought the crest of the earth was the top of a huge saurian monster, a kind of crocodile, which was the object of a certain cult. It is probable that Mayan had a similar belief, but it is not impossible that at the same time they considered the world to consist of seven compartments, perhaps stepped as four layers.
    —J. Eric S. Thompson, Maya Hieroglyphic Writing

    The characteristic feature of the savage mind is its timelessness: its object is to grasp the world as both a synchronic and a diachronic totality and the

  • A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Proposals

    THE EARTH’S SURFACE AND the figments of the mind have a way of disintegrating into discrete regions of art. Various agents, both fictional and real, somehow trade places with each other—one cannot avoid muddy thinking when it comes to earth projects, or what I will call “abstract geology.” One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological

  • The Monuments of Passaic

    He laughed softly. ‘I know. There’s no way out. Not through the Barrier. Maybe that isn’t what I want, after all. But this—this—’ He stared at the Monument. ‘It seems all wrong sometimes. I just can’t explain it. It’s the whole city. It makes me feel haywire. Then I get these flashes—’
    —Henry Kuttner, Jesting Pilot

    . . . today our unsophisticated cameras record in their own way our hastily assembled and painted world.
    —Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation To A Beheading

    ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMER 30, 1967, I went to the Port Authority Building on 41st Street and 8th Avenue. I bought a copy of the New

  • Towards the Development of an Air Terminal Site

    If it resembles something, it would no longer be the whole.
    —Paul Valery

    SINCE JULY, 1966 I’VE BEEN rendering consultation and advice as an “artist consultant” to Tippetts—Abbett—McCarthy—Stratton (Engineers and Architects). The project concerns the development of an air terminal between Fort Worth and Dallas. From time to time, after studying various maps, surveys, reports, specifications, and construction models, I meet with Walther Prokosch, John Gardner and Ernest Schwiebert in order to discuss the overall plan. I have engaged in these discussions not as an architect or engineer, but simply

  • Entropy and the New Monuments

    “On rising to my feet, and peering across the green glow of the Desert, I perceived that the monument against which I had slept was but one of thousands. Before me stretched long parallel avenues, clear to the far horizon of similar broad, low pillars.”
    —John Taine (Eric Temple Bell) “THE TIME STREAM”

    MANY ARCHITECTURAL CONCEPTS FOUND in science-fiction have nothing to do with science or fiction, instead they suggest a new kind of monumentality which has much in common with the aims of some of today’s artists. I am thinking in particular of Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, and