Cover image of the review
Title image: Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson at their West Village loft, New York City, 1970. Photograph: Gianfranco Gorgoni. Reproduced courtesy of Gianfranco Gorgoni.)

Robert Smithson: Time Crystals

25 Aug 2018
18 Feb - 18 Feb 2020

More so than most other artists of his generation, Robert Smithson is a figure who has encouraged something like a ‘cult following’, in which admiration for the man and for his work can be difficult to separate. In writing about Smithson, many art historians and critics seem to drop their default pose of sceptical historical distance and play the role of fans, often seeking less to contextualise and interpret Smithson’s work than to appreciate its profundity and significance. Of course, there is much in Smithson to attract this sort of attention: the labyrinthine web of references to ideas cobbled together from disparate fields (minerology, thermodynamics, science fiction, urbanism) that mark his often near-impenetrable writings and underpin his works; his self-conscious position as an outsider in relation to the dominant formalist concerns of the New York art world into which he emerged in the mid-1960s (after something of a career false start as a painter of expressionist religious imagery earlier in the decade); and the unfinished, unresolved nature of his oeuvre as a whole resulting from his death at 35 in a plane crash while surveying the site of a planned earthwork in Amarillo, Texas.

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