Butter Mummy

Robert Smithson
Oil on canvas
47 x 41.7 in. (119.3 x 106 cm)

Painted around the same time as Smithson’s religious Ikons, ​The Butter Mummy i​s reminiscent of the crude mosaics that once adorned medieval churches. The titular subject is buried beneath what appears to be a city grid, its face ghostly and faded. Smithson draws from antiquity, muses on the mysteries of death, and calls it butter—painting it margarine yellow to match. This cynical, irreverent sense of humor is prevalent in Smithson’s early work, reflecting the young artist’s philosophical struggles and critiques of the contemporary art of his time.