In April of 1966, Artforum published Smithson’s more sober "Entropy and the New Monuments". Boettger writes that “For his first essay in this influential journal Smithson made the bold inversion of declaring that the severe and hulking (often greater than human scale) geometric sculpture that would come to be called ‘Minimal’ displayed the condition of entropy, a term in physics for a state of decreasing order.” These sculptures would “bring to mind the Ice Age rather than the Golden Age.” Smithson’s fascination with all things entropic, of systems breaking down, of decay and ruin was a large part of his art-making practice and his worldview. Often critical of an ever conforming society, he often used minimal sculpture as an analogy by, “likening this work to the cold glass boxes along Park Avenue, which helped foster the entropic mood.”
More importantly though, it was how he positioned himself as an artist, in relation to events going on at the time. Boettger again writes:
Although Smithson’s sensitivity to deterioration and loss came out of personal experience and provided a perspective for him on art, architecture, and geological sites, the concept of entropy also offers an apt metaphor for the societal mood of the late 1960s. It describes the public’s apprehension over the deterioration of nature from pervasive pollution, of the country’s slackening economic pace under the burden of the Vietnam War, and on the social level, a late-sixties society that was itself undergoing disruption. The experience of increasing disorder in a system could serve as a macrocosmic explanation for the sense that, under the stress of civil rights protests, antiwar divisiveness, and the broad rejection of tradition in all forms of art and social mores that was destabilizing familiar conventionality, the country itself was experiencing breakdowns and fractures.
Sound familiar? Hindsight is 20/20 as you know, and I admit, it is quite easy to compare and contrast events of the past with events of today, finding similarities to prove a point. My interest in bringing this up for discussion is to exemplify the cohesive thinking and complete system of beliefs held by Smithson and his fellow artists. Does this mean the time is right for another Earthworks movement, since even today, we’re experiencing similar social and economic breakdowns? Probably not. Beyond the prohibitive cost and funding needed, I can imagine only too well the slew of permits and ordnances it would require even to begin. But you could, I believe, argue that the push toward everything “green” to regulating your carbon footprint is – now that every corporation in America wants to be seen as David against a polluting Goliath – just another form of Earthworks, commercialized and packaged for those who can afford to play and pay. Inasmuch as Smithson viewed his work and the work of fellow minimalists as homage to the “anti-monument,” and the entropic sedation of the grand public, there was also a concerted effort to counterbalance the previous 10 years or so of Abstract Expressionism that had the art world in its throes.