‘Spiral Jetty’ Turns 50


Robert Smithton’s Spiral Jetty turns 50 years old this month. (Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art | © Holt/Smithson Foundation and Dia Art Foundation)

By Paige Lee, Arts Writer


As we approach the 50th anniversary of “Spiral Jetty,” it’s only fitting that we talk more about this magnificent piece of land art. “Spiral Jetty” is a well-recognized work that has jutted out into the boundaries of the Great Salt Lake since April 1970, when it was completed by Robert Smithson. It is huge, composed of over 6,000 tons of rock. The earthly sculpture swirls to a total length of more than 1,500 ft. When water levels are high, the land sculpture ends up being submerged — sometimes for years at a time. “Spiral Jetty” is a compelling work, and arguably the most notable piece of art that Smithson would make in his lifetime.

“Spiral Jetty” “is an artwork that recalibrated what art can be,” said Lisa Le Feuvre, the Holt/Smithson Foundation’s Executive Director. “Spiral Jetty” doesn’t stand in a museum or gallery-like most art — it juts out into the middle of a lake, marking the landscape in a beautiful way. Perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that Smithson actually wanted the artwork to be shaped and eroded by the water. “He was really interested that the ‘Spiral Jetty’ would change over time. For him, that was absolutely essential,” Le Feuvre said. It could be said that Smithson’s art is never done being created — it is constantly changing into something new all on its own, just like Smithson intended.

Now, 50 years after the creation of “Spiral Jetty,”  it is still notable for its uniqueness of form and style. “Spiral Jetty” is an artwork that is truly worth celebrating. Unfortunately, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the iconic land art is difficult under the current circumstances. But despite the challenges, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Holt/Smithson Foundation are still finding ways to commemorate “Spiral Jetty” for reaching the half-century mark of its existence.

The UMFA is celebrating the art’s birthday by inviting people to send in their stories about their own experiences with
“Spiral Jetty” in whatever form they want, including writings, videos and photographs. People can send in their stories here

The Holt/Smithson Foundation paid tribute to the anniversary of “Spiral Jetty”  by temporarily putting Smithson’s movie of the same name on Vimeo and Instagram TV from April 10-11. Smithson “was really interested in ideas of ‘near’ and ‘elsewhere’,” Le Feuvre said of the land art and its conjoined movie. “For Robert Smithson, he was interested in not just ideas — he was interested in time and in looking in places we’re not normally thought to look.”

“Spiral Jetty” manages to play with time and unusual space excellently. “Spiral Jetty” is a masterpiece that has captured the hearts and eyes of many over the last 50 years and will continue to do so — especially as it continues to change throughout the coming years. It is important that when times are better to visit this artwork again, we must respect the art by leaving it as we found it and letting it change on its own.

But until the time comes to see “Spiral Jetty” in person again, we can all still find a reason to celebrate it.


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