In avoiding the engrenage of a commercialized art world – galleries, patrons, collectors, museums, auctions et al, well on its way to becoming the norm (see 1980s) – and by building your sculpture under the stars, it did two things: create an instant shroud of the unknown or undiscovered, requiring an eventual pilgrimage, and the assurance that the artwork in question would be un-sellable, not like some painting on some gallery wall. You couldn’t exactly possess some bulldozed trench in the middle of the Nevada desert now, could you?
The biggest difference I believe, between Smithson and artists working today is that they lack the drive, political discourse, and incentives (personal as opposed to commercial) that such an ambitious project like the “Spiral Jetty” would require. The art world today is also in a state of entropy, surely what Smithson would label in a state of “cultural confinement.”
In "Entropy Made Visible – Interview with Alison Sky" [The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt], Smithson talks about the energy crisis during his lifetime as yet another form of entropy. It’s difficult not to make the same associations to our own current energy crisis in 2008. He states, “...the earth being the closed system, there’s only a certain amount of resources and of course there’s an attempt to reverse entropy through the recycling of garbage.” This recycling, this attempt to reverse entropy, also exists within the art world and especially within the art market. By recycling the art stars and eventually consuming them as mere combustible products, organizing blockbuster exhibitions, granting unwarranted retrospectives, and increasingly inflated auction prices. Art it seems is à la mode.
My point is this: times have changed obviously, and America a lot. Are we better off than we were in 1968, the age of world revolution? It’s debatable. Was 9/11 just another form of entropy too? Maybe. There exist issues in America, and problems of values, morals, religion, black, white, borders/no borders, the economy, Bush, and then more Bush, with no end in sight. Have we lost our innocence or us as individuals? Our collective virginity? Certainly so. I guess it doesn’t matter. But where is the art in all of this? I keep going back to the art and its artists. Who’s taking up the slack where Smithson and others left off? I would like to know, I would like to meet them and shake their hand. Have I lost faith, have I lost art? Help me.