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Museum fur Gegenwartskunst presents Robert Smithson Landscape photographs Exhibition

The Museum fur Gegenwartskunst presents Robert Smithson. The Invention of Landscape, on view through May 28, 2012, focusing on his landscape work created in Holland in 1971. It shows 4 films, 30 drawings, photographs and additional source material, as well as an installation.

Robert Smithson, “Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, View of Spiral Hill,” 1971, Emmen/Holland. © Estate of Robert Smithson/James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai / VAGA, New York / VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn.

From the 1960s onwards, Robert Smithson was one of the most interesting artists to try out new, institutionally critical art forms and present visionary ideas. Smithson’s most famous work is probably his monumental earthwork realised in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, “Spiral Jetty”. The only Land Art project to be realised in Europe dates from 1971, created in the context of the exhibition “Sonsbeek buiten de perken”, which included space-consuming art projects distributed throughout the Netherlands.

Smithson found a suitable site near Emmen, which – by contrast to the rest of Holland – did not appear cultivated and idyllic but rather raw and unworked. He made sketches of various sculptural interventions into a still operating sand pit belonging to the De Boer family. Finally the two-part concept of “Broken Circle/Spiral Hill” proved possible to realise.

An existing plateau of sand in the pit was removed stage by stage to produce a broken circle formation, divided into a jetty and a canal. On the sand bank that forms in a semicircle around the canal there is – almost at the centre of the work – a huge erratic boulder, which disturbed the artist at first. Some metres from the shore a hill was banked up where a spiral-shaped path winds up to its top. The genesis of the work provides some insight into the complexity of the ideas driving Smithson. The broken circle was created mainly as a result of flooding – a reference to the Dutch flood catastrophe of 1953. In its turn, the erratic boulder touches on the geological situation of the sand pit, which is located on the edge of an end moraine dating from the Ice Age. For Smithson, relations of place, time and space were evident in the course of his artistic deliberations.

Parallel to the planning process of the earth work, he produced sketches and notes for a continuation of the idea using the film medium. The drawings entitled “Shooting Procedure/Movie Treatment” give a good impression of how precisely Smithson had planned individual takes and camera work. The first recordings were made in 1971. Due to the artist’s sudden death in a plane crash in 1973, he was unable to complete the film personally. It has now been made by Nancy Holt, Smithson’s widow and herself an artist, working with curator Theo Tegelaers, supported by LAND ART CONTEMPORARY and SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain. They have succeeded in realising the project as a film by and simultaneously about Smithson. It now bears the extended title “Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971–2011)”.

Subsequently, the exhibition will move to Iceland, where it will be shown in a slightly altered form at the Art Museum Reykjavík.

CATALOGUE: A bilingual, richly-illustrated exhibition catalogue (German/English) with a foreword by Eva Schmidt has been published by Snoeck Verlag, Cologne. It includes texts by Theo Tegelaers, Roel Arkesteijn, Kai Vöckler and Marc Glöde as well as an interview with Robert Smithson dating from 1971.

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