Before: the Oil Jetty, photographed in November, 2002.
After: detail of an image by hiker56 showing the site of the former Oil Jetty after its removal by the State of Utah (at Dia's behest? who knows; see below) in 2005.
UPDATE February 21: regarding my own and others' skepticism regarding the framing of Spiral Jetty's status in face of the proposed drilling, here is some food for thought: a few excerpts from Smithson's writings on Spiral Jetty.... lest we forget what he was all about.
UPDATE Feb 11, via MAN :
The Spiral Jetty story from a local angle: Patty Henetz in the Salt Lake Tribune includes some broader policy issues. (Less immediately, I'm still wondering: What about natural gas? Do any of the existing state/federal rules address natural gas extraction?)
In my recent post on the Spiral Jetty situation, I noted that oil drilling in the area is not new, and perhaps there is more to the story than meets the eye. Perhaps Dia has had monumental plans in place for quite some time, and the initiative to start drilling in the area again has come up against these plans. I'm just guessing. So, once again against the grain of the current artworld outcry to prohibit the drilling, I did some unearthing (oops, sorry) and have come up with some interesting articles from a few years back...
Jetty restoration under consideration
But the artist's intent for piece's fate is unknown
By Melissa Sanford
New York Times News Service via Deseret News
Published: Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004 8:24 p.m. MST
For nearly three decades, Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" lay underwater in the Great Salt Lake. Since 1999, as drought has lowered the water level, this famous American earth sculpture — a 1,500-foot coil of black basalt — has slowly re-emerged. Now it is completely exposed; the rocks encrusted with white salt crystals are surrounded by shallow pink water in what looks like a vast snow field.
In 1970, when Smithson built the "Jetty," which is considered his masterpiece, the giant black coil contrasted starkly with the dark pink water of the lake. But time and nature have left their marks.
Thousands of people have visited this once-elusive artwork while an argument is brewing 2,000 miles away about whether to leave it as is or restore it.
"The spiral is not as dramatic as when it was first built," said Michael Govan, the director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, which owns the work. "The 'Jetty' is being submerged in a sea of salt."
To ensure that "Spiral Jetty" is accessible to future generations, the Dia, which exhibits and preserves art made since the 1960s, has discussed raising it by adding more rocks. The Dia is also studying whether nature will restore the contrast the "Jetty" originally had with its surroundings by dissolving some of the salt crystals when the lake's waters rise, or whether the foundation needs to do something more.
But the idea of doing anything to this artwork worries some people. And the intentions of the artist, who died in a plane crash at 35 in 1973, are not clear.
"When refurbishing earthworks, you don't want to create a Tussaud's wax sculpture," said Robert Storr, a former senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a professor at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. "Earthworks were not made to last forever. There is a danger when restoring them to make a more perfect thing than was originally done."
Smithson built "Spiral Jetty" at a site called Rozel Point on the northeast shore because he liked the dark pink color of the water, an effect that results primarily from bacteria and algae that grow there.
Rozel Point is about 100 miles northwest of Salt Lake City, on state-owned land accessible by a 15-mile dirt road with giant potholes that can trap small cars; four-wheel drive is recommended. Smithson's estate donated "Spiral Jetty" to the Dia in 1999 when the piece was first emerging.
"The trip to see the artwork brings people to a place they would not normally experience," said Nancy Holt, Smithson's widow and executor, who lives in New Mexico. "The 'Jetty' is a vortex that draws in everything in the landscape around it." [read on...]
Image via, with the following note: Tons of junk left by oil companies at Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake,
Utah, near Robert Smithson's earthwork, Spiral Jetty, before the state
of Utah eventually removed them in December 2005: 'a total of eighteen
40-cubic-yard dumpsters full of junk were hauled away!'
via The Guardian (UK):
Ever decreasing circle
The Observer Magazine, Sunday April 25, 2004
When Robert Smithson's spiral jetty was engulfed by the rising waters of Utah's great salt lake, no one expected to see it again. Now the remarkable earthwork has re-emerged, bringing to the surface a spectacular ring of crystalline boulders, crowds of fans and the rather pressing problem of how to stop it disappearing again. Stuart Husband gets caught between a rock and a hard place.
[...] under a sign at the site saying 'Spiral Jetty - End of Road' someone has scrawled 'and the beginning of bliss' and there are numerous cans of Red Bull and Budweiser scattered around as evidence of bonfires on the foreshore. It all worries Hikmet Loe, a Salt Lake City librarian who wrote her master's thesis on the earthwork and who keeps a proprietorial eye on it for Dia. 'I went out there last summer and there were people having picnics on the foreshore and running between the coils, kicking up stones,' she shudders. 'Dogs were racing around out there.
I just had to turn away; I couldn't look. If things carry on that way, the shape of the piece will start to seriously erode. I had visions of kids riding quad bikes over the coils.'
Loe is firmly of the something-must-be-done school. 'I've thought about this a lot,' she says. 'Some kind of enclosure could be built around the jetty to stop it disappearing under the water again. And Dia could maybe work with Golden Spike to keep a check on the situation, make sure people weren't abusing or interfering with it.' Meanwhile, Eugenie Tsai suggests, not entirely jokingly, that Dia could ship the original jetty, rock by rock, to its space at Beacon and replace it with a replica: 'You know,' she laughs, 'like they did with Michelangelo's David.'
John Bowsher at Dia remains sanguine amid the rising tide of Spiral Jetty chatter. 'Our preference is to go very slowly and methodically with this,' he says, slowly and methodically. 'There's a lot of interest in the work, which will only increase with the retrospective in Los Angeles this fall, and we've considered all the options, from letting it return to the landscape to dredging the material around it and building Hikmet's enclosure, to active restoration. We've commissioned a report to try and calculate the average lake levels for the next 50-100 years, to determine how high the Spiral Jetty needs to be to remain visible. But right now, our concern is for the preservation of the work as it stands. We can't station someone out there or legislate for what people can or can't do. The best we can do at this point is to continue to monitor events.'
Will Dia feel compelled to act if the waters start to close over the jetty again? 'Not immediately, no,' says Bowsher. 'We're taking the very long view here. We want to consult with all the interested parties and try and come up with a long-term plan that's in the best interests of the work itself.' [read on...]
Out of the Deep
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Published: October 13, 2002
The most famous work of American art that almost nobody has ever seen in the flesh is Robert Smithson's ''Spiral Jetty'': 6,650 tons of black basalt and earth in the shape of a gigantic coil, 1,500 feet long, projecting into the remote shallows of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where the water is rosé red from algae.
The sculpture became an icon immediately after Smithson finished it in 1970. He made a film about it, enhancing the myth: trucks and loaders moving rocks like dinosaurs lumbering across a prehistoric panorama; the modern artist as primordial designer.
Smithson anticipated that the lake would rise and fall, the residue of salt crystals causing the black rocks to glisten white whenever the water level dropped. But he miscalculated. ''Spiral Jetty'' was visible for about two years, then became submerged and stayed that way except for a few brief reappearances.
With the drought in the West, however, the water in the lake has dropped to its lowest level in many years, and so the jetty has emerged, a brackish Brigadoon.
[...] ''Spiral Jetty,'' now watched over by the Dia Art Foundation, is about as remote as a sculpture can be within the contiguous United States. When Smithson found the site, the nearby shoreline was littered by an old pier, a couple of decaying prospectors' shacks and a few small, rusty oil rigs, to which he was not aesthetically averse. Those old shacks and rigs are mostly gone, leaving just dry desert and rocky nothingness until the nearest sign of civilization, 16 miles away, the Golden Spike Monument, where the east and west ends of the transcontinental railroad met up in 1869. To drive from the monument to the jetty is a long, bumpy ride on unmarked dirt and gravel roads through a wide valley that spills down to the lake. A small but steady flow of hopeful devotees make the trek each year, supplied at the monument with a crude map, a stiff warning to bring water and gas and instructions to let park rangers know if the sculpture is visible.
Late this summer, a visitor announced that it was. Beyond a stretch of sagebrush and driftwood, boulders encrusted white with salt could suddenly be seen poking up from the lake to the far edge of the spiral, where the water fades toward pink. From the shore, its base was visible beneath the waves.
The best-known view has always been from the air: looked down on, it is like a watery Romantic ruin, a line in the land, a snail shell or whirlpool, improbably huge and elegant, its stones lapped by waves. Smithson first conceived it as less of a coil. His wife, the artist Nancy Holt, remembers him wading in hip-high boots, his face crusted with salt, staking the shape out with posts and string, then clambering up to look at it from a rise on the shore.
The galactic metaphor was obvious. Smithson admired the science fiction of J.G. Ballard. The red water vaguely evokes a Martian sea. Smithson wrote that the jetty jutting from the shore was ''the edge of the sun, a boiling curve, an explosion rising into a fiery prominence.''
Now it is a sculpture and tourist attraction for the art cognoscenti once again, risen like a modern Atlantis.
... and so:
Last but not least, here is the press release that Dia issued on 2/6/08 regarding the drilling:
DIA ART FOUNDATION FIGHTS PROPOSED OIL DRILLING
NEAR ROBERT SMITHSON'S ICONIC ARTWORK, SPIRAL JETTY (1970)
Drilling to take place within 5 miles of internationally renowned Earthwork
New York, NY—Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) is threatened by an application to drill exploratory boreholes in Utah's Great Salt Lake for oil exploration by Pearl Montana Exploration & Production. Dia Art Foundation adamantly opposes this proposed oil drilling as it will endanger one of the most widely recognized and cherished American sculptures of the late twentieth century. Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty is perhaps the most iconic example of Land Art in the world. Dia acquired the Spiral Jetty as a gift from the artist's Estate in 1999 and today oversees its long-term preservation, including the protection of the surrounding environment.
Smithson's sculpture is made of basalt rocks and earth taken from the site and formed into a massive 1,500-foot-long coil that spirals into the Great Salt Lake. Jeffrey Weiss, director of Dia Art Foundation, said, “The expansive natural setting is integral to Smithson's artwork, providing an essential frame for experiencing the Spiral Jetty. Any incursion on the open landscape, including the proposed drilling, would significantly compromise this important work of art.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has joined Dia in protesting the proposed drilling. Richard Moe, president of the Trust offered his support: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation believes that Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake is a significant cultural site from the recent past, merging art, the environment, and the landscape. We are deeply concerned about the potential harm that energy development could bring to the Spiral Jetty.”
Dia strenuously objects to the proposed drilling which will occur less than 5 miles away from the Jetty. The drilling itself, and potential subsequent oil extraction, will disrupt the viewshed and the area's isolated character, and will degrade the natural environment of the lake by introducing barges with large-scale drilling equipment. Moreover, construction and operation will introduce toxins and chemicals to the delicate saline water and wetlands that surround the lake. In the case of a toxic spill, the proposed operation would cause irreparable damage to the lake environment and threaten the physical integrity of Smithson's extraordinary sculpture. Additionally, Dia is concerned about increased traffic and heavy transport on the rural road that leads to the Spiral Jetty through Golden Spike National Monument, and the potential for noise pollution from drilling and operations.
Smithson's pioneering sculpture-made with bulldozers and earth-occupies an important place in art history, and has inspired both scholarly study and younger generations of artists. Visitors come from around the world to Rozel Point in Box Elder County, Utah to experience the Spiral Jetty which was conceived in relation to the specific geology and topology of its unique site. The fragile balance of earth, salt lake, and local flora and fauna, symbolized in the form and structure of the artwork, must be maintained to preserve the experience of the Spiral Jetty in this unique landscape. [...]