Robert Smithson (1938-73), Eight-Part-Piece (Cayuga Salt Mine Project), 1969
Eight square mirrors resting on piles of rock crystals arranged in a single row. These are the basic constituents of the US artist Robert Smithson’s work.
Earth Art and Minimal Art
Like many of his colleagues within Earth Art and Minimal Art, Robert Smithson was interested in finding new avenues for the creative process and the artist’s role. During the 1960s and the early 1970s, these artists often worked with unprocessed materials and with dividing their works into sections where identical elements are repeated according to a predefined system. In this way they sought to direct attention away from the work and the artist, redirecting it to the spectator’s own experience.
A potential scientific model for visual arts
Robert Smithson did a number of large-scale works made from nature’s own materials outdoors – landscape pieces – but he also made a number of movable sculptures for exhibition purposes. He was deeply interested in geology and science, particularly in entropy, which is the science of how all closed systems, e.g. a crystalline structure, are subject to a displacement of mass and loss of energy. Natural science can arrange vast and complex materials in an overall system, but these systems are subject to constant rearrangement. To Smithson, this science offered a potential model for the visual arts.