Earthworks Erode/Evolve

by | Oct 22, 2006

Jon Armstrong and his wife Heather recently journeyed 100 miles northwest from their Salt Lake City home to Golden Spike National Historic Site in Box Elder County, Utah. Their destination was Spiral Jerry, a 1,500-foot coil of rocks placed there by Robert Smithson in 1970.


Smithson built the spiral out of black basalt rocks taken from the shore and arranged them to a height just above the surface of the water so people could walk on the earthwork as if on a pier. The sculpture can appear white today (as it does in the photo above) due to salt encrustation.

Smithson was one of a number of artists in the 1960s and early 70s who chose to build site-specific pieces outdoors in the West, far from the commercialism of art galleries. I first took an interest in this art form after discovering the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a contemporary British artist.