Robert Smithson: Rome is still falling

Holt/Smithson Foundation is delighted to announce an exhibition of Robert Smithson’s early, and largely unseen, drawings at MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome. Rome is still falling brings together twenty-two early works Smithson made between 1960 and 1964, the majority presented to the public for the first time, from the collection of Holt/Smithson Foundation.

In 1961, at twenty-three, Robert Smithson travelled to Rome for his solo show of religious-themed paintings at George Lester Gallery. During his three-month stay, Smithson was able to further explore his interest in Western history topics he described as Byzantine art, ideas of archetype, myth and anthropomorphism, and what he named the “façade of Catholicism.” As he reflected in 1972: “I guess I was always interested in origins and primordial beginnings, you know, the archetypal nature of things. This was always haunting me all the way through until about 1959 and 1960 when I got interested in Catholicism, through T. S. Eliot and through that range of thinking. T. E. Hulme led me to an interest in Byzantine and his notions of abstraction as a counterpoint to the Humanism of the late Renaissance.”

This period is also marked by what Smithson described as an artistic and spiritual “inner crisis.” Rome is still falling takes the George Lester Gallery exhibition as its starting point to present a lesser-known earlier body of work that both draws upon and departs from Smithson’s spiritual and religious concerns during his time in Rome. Its title originates from a letter by Smithson to his wife the artist Nancy Holt, written in the Eternal City in July 1961, where, floating in the bottom-right corner of the paper, are the four words: “Rome is still falling.”

The time preceding 1964-65 Smithson described as a “period of research, of investigation.” It represents a moment of experimentation, transition, and development. Smithson reflected that he “began to function as a conscious artist around 1964-5.” The works on paper range from representations of Christ’s feet, face, and fall, to advertisements and magazine cut-outs, interspersed with painted religious themes, moving to black ink and pencil winged figures and architectural structures surrounded by language. The later works on paper in Rome is still falling, made in 1965, introduce the viewer to another period in Smithson’s oeuvre: a set of drawings he began in 1963, at the age of twenty-five in New York, where religious imagery is fully replaced with figures from comic books, erotic magazines and popular culture.

Learn more about the exhibition and view the artworks on display on the exhibition page.

Instamatic photograph of Robert Smithson in Rome, 1961
Photograph: Lorraine Harner
Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation and Nancy Holt Estate Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Archived News

2023 Annual Lecture: Rebecca Solnit at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Holt/Smithson Foundation announces the second in the ten-year series of Annual Lectures, an initiative that invites artists, writers, and thinkers to raise questions and present research extending the creative legacies of the artists Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson. Over the course of a decade, the Foundation will partner with a new institution each year to host lectures in ten distinct locations, each significant to Holt and Smithson.

Holt/Smithson Foundation is hiring!

Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and Robert Smithson (1938-73) transformed the world of art and ideas. Holt/Smithson Foundation develops their distinctive creative legacies. We are expanding our small team and seek an Administrator to join us in ensuring that our mission is fulfilled.

On Nancy Holt: Rita McBride and Aurora Tang in Conversation

To mark the closing of Nancy Holt: Locating Perception, Sprüth Magers is hosting a conversation between Rita McBride and Aurora Tang at the Los Angeles gallery. Holt's work remains crucial both to an understanding of land-based and conceptual practices of the late 1960s onward, as well as to contemporary approaches to the natural and built environments. McBride and Tang, who have long engaged with related questions in their projects and exhibitions, will discuss Holt's work and their varied practices. 

Research Fellowship Webinar with Margo Handwerker

Join us on Thursday December 15th for a webinar by 2022 Holt/Smithson Research Fellow, Margo Handwerker. Margo will share her research surrounding Robert Smithson's 1972 proposal for Lake Edge Crescents in Ohio.

Information and Registration:
Thursday, December 15th
10:30 AM Mountain Time
Margot will present for 30 - 45 minutes and a question and answer session will follow.
Register in advance for this webinar.