New York

Robert Smithson

Dwan Gallery

One’s frustration with Robert Smithson’s work at the Dwan Gallery is of the same order as that with Mogenson’s. But Smithson, despite his scientistic pretensions, is quirky in a way that Mogenson is not. Smithson calls his white fiberglass sculptures “infra-perspectives” or “dimensional finite compressions” (relating to something like the 3-D artifice of latitude lines on the globe), since they represent fragments of imaginary perspective projections in compressed form. Infinite circles are transformed into finite straight lines, and all rotational progressions become static within this system. Thus, in keeping with his idea of entropy (outlined in “Entropy and the New Monuments,” Artforum, June, 1967) as a law of inactive history—“time becomes a place minus motion”—dynamic evolution is caught and frozen, and is revealed only by the succession of ever smaller parts, which never reach an end point. Elaborate conceptualizing about non-sites and pointless vanishing points, that in view of the poverty of sculptural achievement or invention, seems marginal to the issue of the work itself.

Pointless Vanishing Point, like an accordion compressed at one end, is a long, stepped arrangement whose steps converge towards a point at which they never arrive. From one angle this effort by the eye to complete what is, and will remain, actually incomplete in the sculpture is quite fascinating. But it also focuses on the major weakness of most of the pieces: that they only make “sense” (and an irrational kind of sense, which one must admit to) from one position, or at best from two sides. They lose most of their validity as idea, and most of their physical character when viewed from any other point. Gyrostatis is made up of interlocking triangular wedges which curl upward in an unfinished spiral—calling to mind Duchamp Villon’s Cubist horse, without the latter’s energy or vitality. Leaning Strata, a group of jointed wedges which seem to topple into each other, makes visual sense only when seen from the sides where its silhouette is apparent, and it becomes clear again that it is only the demonstration of another perspective diagram. All the conceptualizing may be interesting in and for itself, but as applied to Smithson’s sculpture, its suggestiveness and canniness leak away at a surprising and disappointing rate.

Emily Wasserman