Friday, January 7, 2011

Designer of the Month: Robert Smithson

It's difficult to characterize the work of American artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973). Yes, Smithson was a sculptor best known as one of the pioneers of the Earthworks (also known as Land Art) movement, but he was also an artist who refused to limit himself to one style, often abandoning formalism, rules and even traditional art materials in the creation of his works.[1] As a result, Smithson created many sculptures that are difficult to characterize, even within the broader definition of the art form, often creating new categories to help describe these works. In particular, Smithson advanced the concept of the "site" - a place in the world where art is inseparable from its context - with his work encompassing sites as disparate as the conventional exhibition venue and remote landscapes.[2]

Robert Smithson, ca. 1971. Courtesy of artnet.

I think it's incredible when an artist is able to come along and redefine the boundaries of the art world in some way, which is exactly the reason why I've chosen Smithson as January's Designer of the Month. While Smithson was a prolific artist - creating sculptures, drawings, photographs, and writing about art - I want to spend this month focusing on the specific areas that made Smithson such an intriguing artist, namely, his expansion and redefinition of artistic genres. Next week, we'll look at Smithson's Nonsites, week 3 will focus on his Displacements, followed by his Earthworks in week 4.

[1] Elyse Goldberg, "Introduction: About Robert Smithson," The Estate of Robert Smithson online,, (accessed January 6, 2011).

[2] Eugenie Tsai, "Robert Smithson: Plotting A Line From Passaic, New Jersey, To Amarillo, Texas," Robert Smithson, ed. Eugenie Tsai (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004), II.

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