Inside the Spiral

The Passions of Robert Smithson

2022
Author:

Suzaan Boettger

An expansive and revelatory study of Robert Smithson’s life and the hidden influences on his iconic creations

This first biography of the major American artist Robert Smithson, famous as the creator of the Spiral Jetty, deepens understanding of his art by addressing the potent forces in his life that were shrouded by his success. Featuring copious illustrations never before published of early work, it offers unprecedented insight into the hidden impulses of one of modern art’s most enigmatic figures.

This first biography of the major American artist Robert Smithson, famous as the creator of the Spiral Jetty, deepens understanding of his art by addressing the potent forces in his life that were shrouded by his success, including his suppressed early history as a painter; his affiliation with Christianity, astrology, and alchemy; and his sexual fluidity. Integrating extensive investigation and acuity, Suzaan Boettger uncovers Smithson’s story and, with it, symbolic meanings across the span of his painted and drawn images, sculptures, essays, and earthworks up to the Spiral Jetty and beyond, to the circumstances leading to what became his final work, Amarillo Ramp.

While Smithson is widely known for his monumental earthwork at the edge of the Great Salt Lake, Inside the Spiral delves into the arc of his artistic production, recognizing it as a response to his family’s history of loss, which prompted his birth and shaped his strange intelligence. Smithson configured his personal conflicts within painterly depictions of Christ’s passion, the rhetoric of science fiction, imagery from occult systems, and the impersonal posture of conceptual sculpture. Aiming to achieve renown, he veiled his personal passions and transmuted his professional persona, becoming an acclaimed innovator and fierce voice in the New York art scene.

Featuring copious illustrations never before published of early work that eluded Smithson’s destruction, as well as photographs of Smithson and his wife, the noted sculptor Nancy Holt, and recollections from nearly all those who knew him throughout his life, Inside the Spiral offers unprecedented insight into the hidden impulses of one of modern art’s most enigmatic figures. With great sensitivity to the experiences of loss and existential strife that defined his distinct artistic language, this biographical analysis provides an expanded view of Smithson’s iconic art pilgrimage site and the experiences and works that brought him to its peculiar blood-red water.

Cover alt text: Black background with inset square black-and-white image of the artist in left side profile, smoking a cigarette.

Suzaan Boettger, a widely published scholar, arts journalist, and critic based in New York City, is the author of Earthworks: Art and Landscape of the Sixties. She is professor emerita of the history of art at Bergen Community College.

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