Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty Under Threat From Drought

The Great Salt Lake in Utah, home to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, is facing the most severe drought in history which may effect the artist’s work. Water levels are “inches” from the historic low set in 1963, says Bonnie Baxter, the director of the Great Salt Lake Institute. According to a story by the Salt Lake Tribune, that was reported in February, the lake level was at an all-time low and “many observers expect it to dip to a new historic low within the year, depending on precipitation this winter.”

Smithson’s famous Spiral Jetty is a 1,500-foot-long work created in 1970 during a previous drought. The work was subsequently submerged for more than three decades before resurfacing in 2002. As a result of the new record lows, the winding pink salt-encrusted basalt rocks are perhaps more exposed than ever before.

“The current thinking by most is that Robert Smithson would have loved to see the environmental changes that occur around his artwork, so there is no real talk of intervention,” Baxter stated. “There’s concern from an ecological point of view that the lake is shrinking,” Baxter concluded. The artist died in a plane crash in 1973 aged 35. A spokesman for Dia confirms that the “severe drought” has indeed affected Spiral Jetty, but added: “While we will continue to work with our partners to maintain the site, there are no plans for any intervention.”

The artist chose the north arm of the lake to place his work since the water levels are lower and the water’s hue is a crystal pink. Other famous earth works by Smithson include Broken Circle (1971) in the Netherlands, Amarillo Ramp (1973) in Texas, and Asphalt Run (1969) in Italy.

A solution has recently been approved is to rebuild part of the causeway that separates the north and south arms of the lake. By doing so this will re-establish a small flow of water between the two sections. The exchange of water will “not impact the colour of the water around Spiral Jetty”, Baxter added, nor is it likely to radically alter the water levels.


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