Constructed to emerge from the base of an artificial lake, Amarillo Ramp now lies in a dried-up basin, its original structure altered by erosion. It is Smithson’s final earthwork; while surveying the site in 1973, Smithson was killed in a plane crash alongside pilot Gale Ray Rogers and photographer Richard I. Curtin. The sculpture was posthumously completed by Nancy Holt and artists Tony Shafrazi and Richard Serra. Overgrown with mesquite, its once-defined edges sloping into the earth, Amarillo Ramp is a solemn illustration of entropy.
The Making of Amarillo Ramp
The Making of Amarillo Ramp is one of a series of moving image works made by Nancy Holt that focus on an earthwork by Robert Smithson. The site of Amarillo Ramp is seventeen miles northwest of Amarillo, Texas on the edge of the Tecovas Lake—a constructed dam, that today is dry. It was commissioned by Stanley Marsh, a local ranch owner who described the earthwork as a “comma in the landscape.” On July 20, 1973, while photographing the site of the earthwork in progress, Smithson died in a small airplane accident along with pilot Gale Ray Rogers and photographer Richard I. Curtin. After Smithson's passing Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and Tony Shafrazi worked with local tradespeople to complete Amarillo Ramp according to Smithson's specifications.
Holt’s The Making of Amarillo Ramp follows Holt, Serra, and Shafrazi as they finish the construction of Amarillo Ramp. Still photography and moving image footage from July 11 and 12, 1973 were edited by Holt in 2013 on the occasion of the exhibition Robert Smithson in Texas at Dallas Museum of Art (November 24, 2013—April 27, 2014). This powerful account documents the sounds and actions of the powerful machinery necessary to create an earthwork of this scale, underscoring the human skill and personal relationships that were integral to the completion of the work.
The Making of Amarillo Ramp begins with a quote from “Fragments of an Interview,” a 1969 dialogue between Smithson and Patricia Norvell, published in Jack Flam (ed.) The Collected Writings of Robert Smithson (University of California Press, 1996). In the published interview, Smithson describes “When I get to a site that strikes the kind of timeless chord, I use it. The site selection is by chance. There is no willful choice. A site at zero degree, where the material strikes the mind, where absences become apparent, appeals to me, where the disintegrating of space and time seems very apparent. Sort of an end of selfhood . . . the ego vanishes for a while.”