Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson
Great Salt Lake, Utah
Mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water
1,500 ft. (457.2 m) long and 15 ft. (4.6 m) wide
Dia Art Foundation

Built at the mouth of a terminal basin rich in minerals and nearly devoid of life, ​Spiral Jetty ​is a testament to Smithson’s fascination with entropy. Its precarious location lends itself to the structure’s inevitable disintegration, yet its impressive size and deliberate shape command the surrounding landscape. Constructed from 6,650 tons of rock and earth, the spiral continuously changes form as nature, industry, and time take effect.

In 1999 Nancy Holt and the Estate of Robert Smithson donated the earthwork to Dia Art Foundation, who continue as stewards.

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Scholarly Text

Spiral Jetty

Gary Shapiro

Robert Smithson designed and directed the construction of his iconic work the Spiral Jetty in April 1970. The Jetty is a site-specific work, meant to interact with changing conditions of the surrounding water, land, and atmosphere. While located in a relatively barren, unpopulated place, Smithson chose the site not only because of the vast surrounding landscape, but with reference to nearby abandoned oil rigs and the Golden Spike monument marking the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railway. He understood these as industrial ruins, or entropic residues.1  The artist's essay "The Spiral Jetty" and the eponymous film he made with Nancy Holt, can be considered as coordinate "non-site" aspects of the artwork.

Writing by the Artist

The Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson
My concern with salt lakes began with my work in 1968 on the Mono Lake Site-Nonsite in California. Later I read a book called Vanishing Trails of Atacama by William Rudolph which described salt lakes (salars) in Bolivia in all stages of desiccation and filled with micro bacteria that give the water surface a red color. The pink flamingos that live around the salars match the color of the water. In The Useless Land, John Aarons and Claudio Vita-Finzi describe Laguna Colorada: “The basalt (at the shores) is black, the volcanos purple, and their exposed interiors yellow and red. The beach is grey and the lake pink, topped with the icing of iceberg-like masses of salts.” Because of the remoteness of Bolivia and because Mono Lake lacked a reddish color, I decided to investigate the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

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