I feel compelled to respond to Tom Wharton's article "Great Basin art makes me mad" ( Tribune, May 13). The works of art Wharton discusses are not new to the region: The Spiral Jetty was created in the north arm of Great Salt Lake in 1970; Sun Tunnels was created in the West Desert between 1973-'76; and Tree of Utah was finished in 1986 along I-15 east of Wendover.
We have lived with these works for decades. By "we," I mean all of humanity, and not just Utahns, for these works can all be found in numerous books (published internationally) ranging from art and history to travel. All three works have their own levels of international acknowledgement within the art world and acceptance as iconic emblems as either land art (the Spiral Jetty and Sun Tunnels) or sculpture (Tree of Utah). So, I'm a bit puzzled as to why Wharton is mad now.
Maybe it's due to the fact that he just recently visited the Spiral Jetty for the first time, which he wrote about in rather glowing terms in his article "Smithson's Spiral Jetty decorates Great Salt Lake" ( Tribune, May 13). I admire Wharton for having an emotional experience to the art we have in our land and for the thoughtful way he described his recent experience at the Spiral Jetty.
Great art allows us to open our eyes to our surroundings, to see things fresh, to think, to not accept the status quo. Art can and should provoke strong emotions. Sure, we can also get mad about the art and the message. But maybe Wharton answered his own question within his article when he stated that "Smithson's vision gave me an excuse to visit..." Why be mad about that? Wharton visited a site of exquisite beauty along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, due to the art found there.
My other concern with Wharton's article is the duality he constructs by situating art that is in the land as different, or "other" than anything else humans have created, which is also situated in the land. One could easily be "mad" about art in the land; one could just as easily be "mad" about buildings or cars or mining pits in the land.
To answer Wharton's question "Isn't the Great Salt Lake and the basin and range that surround it beautiful and unique enough?" I would counter with another question: "Enough for what?" If the basin and range were beautiful enough without art to draw us to this region, then there is no room for any other human endeavor. We would be expected to come to the region, view it, then leave. Our very existence in this region would be moot.
The Great Basin has been built by geology. The amazing qualities that make up basin and range are well-documented. The Great Basin has also been built by humans as we have lived upon, explored, mapped, settled, industrialized and inextricably altered the very land we live on and the air we breathe.
We name our places after people for a reason. We feel connected to the land and want to honor the land through humans who have made a difference to the region: Lake Bonneville, the islands of Stansbury, Carrington, Gunnison, Fremont within Great Salt Lake...the list goes on. Part of honoring our land is to create art that is situated in the land. This matters just as much as the paintings of our landscapes that hang in our museums, housed on the land of the Great Basin.
Hikmet Sidney Loe teaches art history at Westminster College. Her book Rotating Through Time and Place: The Spiral Jetty and Rozel Point will be published next year by Utah State University Press.