Robert Smithson & Richard Serra Essay

1028 words - 4 pages

What is ‘Art’? Does the term describe a tangible object, experiential event, process, technique, medium, or creative skill? Does it imply attractive decoration, pleasant arrangement, and sound financial investment - or can art provoke, be unattractive, make people uncomfortable, and be fleeting? Today, Art is subjective, open to interpretation and encompasses the spectrum of the visual, literary, dance, and musical humanities - often overlapping one another. As such, Art and its practice can be all of the above and more. Post World War II, Modernist theories were waning and a general dissatisfaction was building in the United States and other westernized countries that ultimately led up to the cultural and social revolution of the 1960’s. The period also parallels a rise in relative wealth and subsequent mass consumption of commodities, education, and cultural activities within all the socioeconomic classes. Personal expression became acceptable and art practice exploded to include multiple fields of activity that Rosalind Krauss likens to “an extraordinary practice in elasticity”. Interest in ecology, performance, process, alternative materials, a loosening of social mores and experimentation with altered states of reality contributed to the rise of what is now known amply as Postmodernism. Civil rights, the anti-war movement, rise of feminism, and a political movement left of center created egalitarian entrances for many into various fields of study including Art. Nevertheless, similar to the current state of Western Civilization, not everyone appreciates an open multiplicity of voices often differing in viewpoints from safer, more conservative ones. It is in this context that artists Robert Smithson and Richard Serra began their careers in art engaging in site specific sculptural installations that have the ability to both delight and deride viewers.

Scale wise, Smithson’s ‘Earth-Work’ and Serra’s monumental sculptures are reminiscent of antique constructions similar to the Hopewell Indian Burial Mounds and Stonehenge respectively, albeit with distinctively different intentions. Additionally, the size of their work is along the lines of architecture or landscape architecture installations that are too large to be contained within a gallery or indoor setting. In a sense, this removes the notion of preciousness, a quality often attached to art work and one that encourages dialogue when one is confronted with the scale of their expressions. This break within the traditional framework of creating and viewing art which Smithson likens to an “entropy of technique” breeds the notion of “limitlessness” associated with Postmodernism. Whether or not this is a good direction is open for debate.

Today, Smithson’s work - Spiral Jetty which was constructed in 1970 for example - engenders nostalgia and reverence. People continue to make pilgrimages to the hard to reach inhospitable north shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah to get a glimpse of...

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