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Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty, considered to be the masterpiece of American sculptor Robert Smithson, is the name of an earthwork scupture built in 1970.

Built of basalt rocks and earth on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1500-foot long and 15-foot wide counterwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake.

At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a recent drought, the jetty re-emerged in 1999 and is now completely exposed.

Originally black rock against ruddy water, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.


Smithson reportedly chose the Rozel Point site based on the blood-red color of the waters and its connection with the Primordial Sea. The red hue of the water is due the presence of saltotolerant bacteria and algae that thrive in the extreme 27 percent salinity of the lake's north arm, which was isolated from fresh water sources by building of a causeway by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1959.

Smithson was reportedly attracted to the Rozel Point site because of the stark anti-pastoral beauty and industrial remnants from nearby Golden Spike National Historic Site. While observing the construction of the piece from a heliocopter, Smithson reportedly remarked "et in Utah Ego" as a counterpoint to the famous pastoral Baroque painting et in Arcadia ego by Nicolas Poussin.

The piece was financed in part by a nine thousand dollar grant from the Virginia Dawn Gallery of New York. A 20-year lease for the site was granted for one hundred dollars.

To move the rock into the lake, he hired contractor Bob Phillips of nearby Ogden, Utah who used two dump trucks, a large tractor, and a front loader to haul the 6,550 tons of rock and earth into the lake. It is reported that Smithson had a difficult time convincing a local contractor to accept the unusual proposal for the work

He began work on the jetty in April 1970. Construction took six days. Smithson died in a plane crash in Texas three years after finishing the jetty.

The sculpture is current owned by the Dia Art Foundation of New York, who acquired the piece by a donation from Smithson's estate in 1999.


The current exposure of the jetty to the elements and to the ravages of its growing number of visitors has lead to a controversy over the preservation of the sculpture. The discoloration of the rocks and the exposure of the lake bed having altered the colors of the original, a proposal has emerged to buttress the sculpture and restore the original colors by the addition of new basalt rocks in the spirit of the original. It is expected that without such additions, the sculpture will be submerged again once the drought is over.

The issue has been complicated by the ambiguous statements by Smithson, who expressed both an admiration for entropy as well as a desire that his works be preserved as much as possible.

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