Built up out of the Great Salt Lake in 1970 with rocks from the surrounding area, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is now a part of the landscape. The rocks are arranged in the lake like a pier that lost its way, spinning inside itself instead of out to the ocean. The path leads nowhere. The rocks, while initially above water, have dropped below and risen above sea level for years at a time depending on environmental conditions.
I’ve never been to the Spiral Jetty. Neither have a lot of people. I’ve seen it many times on slides, on my computer screen, and occasionally in the newspaper. Yet the work is the quintessential experiment in location. It lies 250 miles outside Salt Lake City in Utah. Location is essential to its look – the scale of the mountains and the water line against the deep red of the water. It is also essential to its meaning – it is another landmark we have never seen nor will ever see, one of millions. Its remoteness makes the piece intangible, ephemeral, even as its materials are the most real material on earth – the earth itself.