Is Utah's Spiral Jetty political art?

Published March 19, 2012 1:59 pm

Spiral Jetty brings attention to environment, lecturer says.
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Providing context and history to one of Utah's most celebrated works of art, Westminster College art history teacher Hikmet Loe asked the audience a question Sunday about the Spiral Jetty and beyond: Is it possible anymore to have an unobstructed view of anything?

From some people's perspective, the "pristine" environment around the famous earthwork by Robert Smithson has been repeatedly threatened by past and potential oil exploration, not to mention junk. Loe, though a fierce defender of the site, also pointed out that Smithson might have expected — indeed wanted — some of the trash to remain part of the landscape.

"He wanted to show that art could end up healing the Earth that's already been pulverized," said Loe of Smithson's exploration of art in industrial areas. In fact, he had proposed an art piece at a Kennecott mine, though the work was turned down.

Her discussion was part of the Forum for Questioning Minds lecture series at the Salt Lake City Main Library Sunday afternoon. Loe, who has a book on the Spiral Jetty coming out later this year, has spent decades studying the work and participated in some of the recent fight against development in the area.

She also discussed Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, four tubes of concrete in the desert, positioned to optimize the solstices. In an area that was once essentially empty, a neighbor is now building towers of tires. She says the tires are visible from Google Earth.

The lecture inspired many members of the audience, only some of whom had ever visited Spiral Jetty or the Sun Tunnels. Though Mike Angelastro, 67, had lived in Utah for about 30 years, he didn't know of the earthwork until a few weeks ago.

"The thing I keep thinking about — this is a man-made adjustment to the landscape," he said, wondering if its existence is tolerated because of the artistic purpose. He hopes the area is protected.

Donna and William Vogel have been out to the Jetty twice and believe it is important for the country's future that it is preserved.

"It's important for our children," said Donna Vogel, 80. "It's experiential — you can get out there and feel it."


Forum for Questioning Minds

The next lecture "Road to Peace — Abolish War?" will be held Sunday, March 25 at the Salt Lake City Main Library at 2 p.m.



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