Primordial Beginnings

Dec 1, 2020 – Jan 9, 2021
Solo Exhibition

Primordial Beginnings will investigate Smithson’s exploration of, as he said in 1972, “origins and Primordial Beginnings , […] the archetypal nature of things.” This careful selection of works on paper demonstrates how Smithson worked as, to use his words, a geological agent. He presciently explored the impact of human beings of the surface of our planet. The earliest works are fantastical science fiction landscape paintings embedded in geological thinking. These rarely seen paintings from 1961 point to his later earthworks and proposals for collaborations with industry. Between 1961 and 1963 Smithson developed a series of collages showing evolving amphibians and dinosaurs. Paris in the Spring (1963) depicts a winged boy atop a Triceratops beside the Eiffel Tower, while Algae Algae (ca, 1961-63) combines paint and collage turtles in a dark green sea of words.

For Smithson, landscape and its inhabitants were always undergoing change. In 1969 he started working with temporal sculptures made from gravitational flows and pours, thinking through these alluvial ideas in drawings. The first realized flow was Asphalt Rundown, in October 1969 in Rome, and the last, Partially Buried Woodshed, took place on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. A selection of drawings related to these important event sculptures are on display in Primordial Beginnings. Smithson was invested in a definition of sculpture that was timebound and precarious, that would not claim monumental status, and would instead collaborate with entropy.

An autodidact, Smithson's interests in travel, cartography, geology, architectural ruins, prehistory, philosophy, science-fiction, popular culture, and language spiral through his work. In his short and prolific life, Smithson produced paintings, drawings, sculptures, architectural schemes, films, photographs, writings, earthworks, and all the stops between. From his landmark earthworks to his 'quasi-minimalist' sculptures, Nonsites, writings, proposals, collages, detailed drawings, and radical rethinking of landscape, Smithson's ideas are profoundly urgent for our times. By exploring the conceptual and physical boundaries of landscape Smithson raised questions about our place in the world, their relevance heightened as the dangers of global warming move ever closer.

Primordial Beginnings will be accompanied by a simultaneous exhibition, Hypothetical Islands, at Marian Goodman Gallery, London. Both exhibitions will feature rarely seen works from the personal collection of the artist Nancy Holt (1938-2014). Holt married Smithson in 1963 and managed his Estate between 1973 and 2014. 

Click here to view an Online Viewing Room presented by Marian Goodman Gallery.

About the Exhibitions:

Primordial Beginnings and Hypothetical Islands and are organized by Philipp Kaiser, Chief Executive Director of Artists and Programs at Marian Goodman Galleries, and Lisa Le Feuvre, Executive Director of Holt/Smithson Foundation. About Holt/Smithson Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery In February 2020 Holt/Smithson Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery announced their partnership. The partnership between Holt/Smithson Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery marks a return. In 1965 Marian Goodman was a founder of Multiples, Inc., a landmark project publishing prints, multiples, and books by leading American artists -including Robert Smithson. An exhibition dedicated to Multiples, Inc. launches at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York in January 2021.


Robert Smithson, Algae, algae (ca. 1961-1963)
Paint and photo collage on Masonite
23 3/8 x 27 1/4 x 1/4 in. (59.3 x 69.1 x 0.6 cm)
©Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS

More Exhibitions

Teresita Fernández / Robert Smithson

Jul 5 – Oct 28, 2024
Two-person Exhibition

We are pleased to announce the exhibition Teresita Fernández / Robert Smithson launches at SITE SANTA FE in July  2024, in collaboration with SITE SANTA FE and Teresita Fernández. This major exhibition marks the first time Robert Smithson’s work has been placed in conversation with an artist working today. Artist-led and conceptually driven, Teresita Fernández / Robert Smithson is a subjective, intergenerational conversation between two practices.