Slant Piece, Conceived 1969, reconstructed 1976
Mirror and rock salt
Overall 48 x 60 x 48 in. (121.9 x 152.4 x 121.9 cm)
Gift of the Buckeye Trust in memory of Ruth C. Roush, 1980
Slant Piece is a reconstruction of a Mirror Displacement piece from Smithson's Cayuga Salt Mine Project of 1968-69.
Listen to a podcast about this artwork here
An enormously ambitious "Site/Nonsite" installation in Ithaca, N.Y., the Cayuga project consisted of rock-salt and mirror placements that were simultaneously exhibited at the Cayuga Rock Salt Company quarry (the "Site"), and at Cornell University's Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art (the "Nonsite"), as well as at various "Sub-Sites" connecting the two spaces. The project was featured in an Earth Art Exhibition, held at the museum in February 1969.1
Smithson originally conceived of the installation as a set of photographs, taken in the mine and placed both in the mine and in the museum.2 He eventually dispensed with the photographs, and placed eight mirrors in the mine and another eight along the trail that led from the mine to the gallery. Eight additional mirrors were placed in the museum gallery at equal intervals against the wall, with rock salt piled between and partly on top of the mirrors. Two larger mirrors surrounded by rock salt were placed in the center of the gallery.3 In discussing the Cayuga Salt Mine Project, Smithson elaborated on the dialectics of "containment" vs. "scattering" and "here" vs. "there" produced by the conjunction of rock salt and mirror in a given environment. Underground in the salt mine (see Smithson photograph), he writes, "you have an amorphous room situation, an interior that's completely free. There's no right angles forming a rectangular thing. So I'm adding the rectangular focal point [the mirror] that sort of spills over into the fringes of the non-descript amorphousness."4 This play of focus and expansion is endlessly repeated when Slant Piece is exhibited in the gallery space of the AMAM, where it can be viewed as an object and as a "nonsite" that absorbs, reflects, and displaces its surroundings.5 The original Mirror Displacement pieces (Smithson's term) from the Cayuga Salt Mine Project were destroyed.6 Oberlin's Slant Piece is among several unique reconstructions made under the direction of the John Weber Gallery in 1976.7 The pieces were reconstructed from Smithson's photographs, notes, and drawings from the project; and rock salt from the Cayuga salt mine was used.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Robert Smithson studied painting at the Art Students League, New York, and the Brooklyn Museum School in the mid 1950s. After a visit to Rome in 1961, Smithson began to fuse his Abstract Expressionist style with the religious subject matter of Byzantine art. It was only after his marriage to the sculptor Nancy Holt in 1963 that he began to sculpt in the Minimalist idiom. In 1966 Smithson began a series entitled Nonsite sculptures. In these pieces, he removed elements from a specific site and presented them in a gallery. The most elaborate of these projects revolved around the Cayuga Salt Mine in upstate New York and resulted in numerous sculptures and photographs, including Oberlin's Slant Piece. The Nonsite series marked the beginning of Smithson's interest in questions of site, environment, and nature in his sculpture. These concerns culminated in his monumental Earthworks. Spiral Jetty (Utah, 1970), for example, used the bank of the Great Salt Lake to create a spiral-shaped form that referred to such ancient earthworks as the snake mounds in southern Ohio or the pyramids in Egypt. Smithson died in a plane crash in 1973. His final earthwork project--Amarillo Ramp (Amarillo, Texas, 1973)--was completed by Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and Tony Shafrazi.
The Writings of Robert Smithson. Edited by Nancy Holt. New York, 1979.
Hobbs, Robert. Robert Smithson: Retrospective. Exh. cat., Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, N.Y., 1982.
Sobreszek, Robert. Robert Smithson: Photoworks. Albuquerque, 1993.
Shapiro, Gary. Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art after Babel. Berkeley, 1995
Anon. In The Dictionary of Art. Vol. 28. Edited by Jane Turner. London and New York, 1995, pp. 890-91.
With the John Weber Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in 1980
Ithaca, N.Y., Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1969. Earth Art. 11 February - 16 March. Unnumbered cat. (originally untitled, since destroyed).
New York, John Weber Gallery, 1976. Robert Smithson. 24 April - 19 May. No cat.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1980. From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the Late Ruth C. Roush. 20 February - 19 March. Cat. no. 99.
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995. Robert Smithson/Tony Tasset: Site/Nonsite. 7 October - 3 December. Unnumbered cat. (Cayuga rock salt only).
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1996. L'Informe: mode d'emploi (L'Informe: A User's Guide. 21 May - 21 August. Cat. no. 71 (Cayuga rock salt only).
On the Original
Earth Art. Exh. cat., Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 1970. Section 2 (on the exhibition); Section 4 (transcript of symposium).
Smithson, Robert. "Earth." In The Writings of Robert Smithson. Edited by Nancy Holt. New York, 1979, pp. 160-67 (reprint of Cornell University symposium).
Leavitt, Thomas W. Foreword to catalogue, Robert Smithson: Sculpture. Edited by Robert Hobbs. Exh. cat., Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 1980.
Hobbs, Robert. Robert Smithson: Sculpture. Ithaca, N.Y., 1981, pp. 132-37.
Hobbs, Robert. "Robert Smithson: Articulator of Nonspace." In Robert Smithson: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982, pp. 15-16.
On the Reconstruction
Lubell, Ellen. "Robert Smithson." Arts 51, no. 1 (September 1976), p. 19.
Mower, D. "Through the Looking Glass and What the Artist Found There." Art International 23, nos. 5-6 (September 1979), p. 67.
Barnes, Lucinda. Robert Smithson/Tony Tassett: Site/Nonsite. Exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1995, pp. 8-10.
Krauss, Rosalind, and Yve-Alain Bois. L'Informe: mode d'emploi (L'Informe: A User's Guide). Exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996, pp. 181, 248.
The work was constructed at John Weber Gallery in 1976. The rock salt used in the reconstruction originated at the Cayuga Rock Salt Company (now Cagill, Inc.), and the mirror was fabricated according to Smithson's specifications. The mirror was broken and replaced at an unknown date (before 1991). The rock salt is grey and extremely coarse, and includes very large pieces. The components of the installation appear to be in good condition.
1. See Robert Hobbes, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, N.Y., 1981), pp. 132-33, for an extensive description of the Cayuga Salt Mine Project.
2. A drawn proposal (1968, ink and graphite, 55.9 x 71.1 cm, Ithaca, N.Y., Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University) for this version of the project is reproduced in Robert Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, N.Y., 1981), p. 133.
3. A photograph of the installation is reproduced in Robert Hobbes, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, N.Y., 1981), p. 133.
4. Quoted in William Lipke, ed., "Fragments of a Conversation," in The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York, 1979), p. 168.
5.See Robert Hobbs, "Robert Smithson: Articulator of Nonspace," in Robert Smithson: A Retrospective (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982), pp. 17-19, for a synthesis of Smithson's notions of Nonspace and Nonsite. See also Robert Smithson, "Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan," in The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York, 1979), pp. 94-103, for the artist's descriptions of Mirror Displacements in another project of 1969.
6. Information from an undated record in the museum files of a conversation between John Weber, the AMAM preparator, and Thomas Leavitt, who organized the Cayuga Salt Mine Project.
7. Other reconstructions include Open Mirror Square (Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art) and Cayuga Salt Mine Project (Ithaca, N.Y., Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University).
© Estate of Robert Smithson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY