The death of Robert Smithson in 1973 robbed postwar American art of an unusually creative practitioner and thinker. Smithson's pioneering earthworks of the 1960s and 1970s anticipated contemporary concerns with environmentalism and the site-specific character of artistic production. His interrogation of authorship, the linear historiography of high modernism, and the limitations of the museum prefigures key themes in postmodern criticism while underscoring the uniqueness of Smithson's own work as an artist, filmmaker, and writer.
Gary Shapiro's elegant and incisive study of Smithson's career is the first book to address the full range of the artist's dazzling virtuosity. Ranging from Smithson's best known works such as Spiral Jetty and Partially Buried Woodshed to his photographs, films, and theoretical readings and writings, Shapiro's masterful book analyzes Smithson's art in relation to the legacy of American art of the 1960s and central philosophical themes in its contemporary reception.
Gary Shapiro is Tucker Boatwright Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Richmond. His books include Nietzschean Narratives (1989) and Alcyone: Nietzsche on Gifts, Noise, and Women (1991).
"Robert Smithson, more than any other one artist, defined the terms of what is now called postmodernism. In this amazingly good-humored book he finds his ideal commentator. Gary Shapiro has important things to say about Dewey, Derrida, Hegel, and Heidegger; about the history of landscape gardening and Poussin's images of Arcadia; and about Duchamp's ready mades and the art criticism of Clement Greenberg. Writing with beautiful lucidity, he demonstrates how much aesthetics has to gain from a close-up study of one of the greatest recent American artists (and art writers). Art critics will find in this book a highly original account of a figure they have often written about. Aestheticians shall discover in this graceful text radically original perspectives on many familiar themes. Impressive in its erudition, effortlessly wide-reaching in its references, Shapiro's book inaugurates what will be a highly productive dialogue among artists, art writers, and philosophers of art."—David Carrier, Carnegie Mellon University
"It is an inspiration to analyze Robert Smithson's earthworks through the lens of Martin Heidegger's philosophy of art, in which the concept of earth plays so central a role. It is fitting artist and philosopher together in a way that makes salient the profound originality of each. But this is only one of the inspired connections Gary Shapiro manages to find between the work of this tremendous artist, and a body of thought which clarifies, enhances, and interprets it. Shapiro's own text is a model of lucidity and care, aesthetic sympathy, and philosophical respect. Smithson has found in him the thinker, the critic, the explainer that the weight, power, and dignity of his work has needed."—Arthur C. Danto