Robert Smithson on the Spiral Jetty 3

Over 6,650 tons of material was moved, 292 truck-hours (taking 30 to 60 minutes per load) and 625 man-houses (adding up to more than 10 tons of material per hour) were spent on the creation of the Spiral Jetty.
Robert Smithson had read about the water of the salt lakes in Bolivia turning red and was fascinated. Bolivia was too remote an area for Smithson to create any type of artwork, so decided to investigate the Great Salt Lake in Utah. A site was selected about fifteen miles from the Golden Spike Monument and Smithson quickly went to work to obtain a land permit and a construction contractor. A Special Use Lease Agreement was obtained from the state and he acquired a permit from the Bureau of Reclamation to remove the rock. Smithson contacted Whitaker Construction about building his earthwork and they recommended Bob Phillips, who had been building dikes for evaporating ponds for Great Salt Lake Minerals. Smithson was on the site everyday supervising the construction of the Jetty. He waded through the water to stake the form of the Jetty out and made changes and adjustments to the shape throughout the process.
The total length of the coil ended up being 1,500-feet long. The pathway is fifteen-feet wide and the depth from the base of the lake to the surface of the water was originally three and a half feet high and had an additional ten to twelve inches of earth on top of the rock. The Jetty protrudes eight hundred-feet into the Great Salt Lake and the total width of the coil is approximately three hundred-feet.
Phillips went to see the revised work and thought it was astonishing; the change in feeling he got from looking at it the second time from the first, went from “‘That’s a good looking dike I build’” to “‘My word, that’s sensational, the way that looks.’” Phillips in his article “Building the Jetty,” which appears in the newly published book, Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty states, “There can be no question that Bob Smithson built this Jetty. And though Busenbark was great on that loader, he was orchestrated, everything he did was by Smithson.” This is an important statement to keep in mind when wondering if the artist really created the earthwork himself or not.

  • Framed: 21.25 x 17.25 in
  • Created: 1970
  • Current Location: MOA STORAGE STUDIO - 1000 Englewood Parkway Englewood, CO 80110 (google map)
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