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PRINT April 1974

Robert Smithson, the “Amarillo Ramp”

A song of the rolling earth, and of words accordingly,

Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?

those curves, angles, dots?

No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the

ground and sea,

They are in the air, they are in you.


—Walt Whitman, A Song of the Rolling Earth

ROBERT SMITHSON WAS A PROBLEM from the beginning. When first exhibited in The Jewish Museum’s “Primary Structure” exhibition in 1966, his sculpture looked eccentric compared to the prevalent notion of the Minimalist style. Smithson’s adoption of the spiral motif contrasted strongly with the inert and self-contained icons of Minimalism—the circle, triangle, rectangle, or square. His spiraled Mirror Prototype for Aerial Art Project, 1967, for example, and even bulkier Gyrostasis of 1968 apparently relate to 19th-century systems of logarithmic expansion, or to organic and crystalline growth,

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