What If Sprawl Is The Real Entropy?

Maybe we have the whole Smithsonian entropy thing wrong.

In 2002, Artforum's Nico Israel whined with condescension about the homogenous strip mall & fast food landscape he had to endure on his road trip from one perfectly isolated Earthwork [Spiral Jetty] to another [Double Negative].

Then, as the Jetty has re-emerged year after year, visitor traffic has increased dramatically, along with press coverage and local awareness and appreciation.

Road signs to the Jetty appear in the middle of what was once unmarked desert scrub.

Tour buses idle where once only high-clearance 4WD's were advised to go. The Dia Center takes ownership [?] of the Jetty.

And Smithson's widow, fresh on the heels of fabricating a piece that didn't exist during the artist's lifetime, mentions offhandedly that she doesn't see how adding rocks and regrading ramps would conflict with her husband's idea of entropy.

And now, the industrial detritus that has long defined the Jetty's site for visitors--and, to some extent at least, for the artist himself, who chose Rozel Point as much for the abandoned oil derricks as for the water's reddish-pink tint--has been cleaned up and hauled away, deemed "an eyesore" by the State [as if anyone had bothered to look there until a couple of years ago].

Should we care? Conventional art world wisdom holds that Smithson's entropy dictated a hands-off approach to his work. Que sera sera, dust to dust. Nature will take its inexorable course; stopping, fighting, or reversing this [d]evolution through restoration, maintenance, or re-creation is doing a disservice to Smithson's ideas and his legacy.

spiral_doily.jpg
"The Spiral Doily," picked up in Utah on
my last trip to the Jetty

But in his seminal Artforum essay of 1966, "Entropy and the New Monuments," the examples of entropy Smithson cited weren't ivy-covered ruins and rubble, but New Jersey, Philip Johnson and the "cold glass boxes" of Park Avenue, and suburban sprawl. "The slurbs, urban sprawl, and the infinite number, of housing developments of the postwar boom have contributed to the architecture of entropy."

Just this week, Reuters reported on a land use study that shows Suburban Sprawl may be an irrestistable force in the US. When he sited Spiral Jetty in BF Utah, was Smithson building against New Jerseyification, or just ahead of it? Is it possible--or is it just convenient acquiescence to suggest--that roped-off "Nature"-driven degradation is not, in fact, entropy, but Romanticism? Maybe letting "civilization" have its paving, scrubbing, sprucing up, licensing, Acoustiguiding, Ritz Carlton Jettyway Weekend Packaging way with the Jetty isn't closer to the end game Smithson envisioned?

Entropy and the New Monuments [robertsmithson.com]
Suburban sprawl an irresistible force in US [reuters]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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