The art world is totally committed to to it’s own sterilization. Art must be frozen in time. Great pains are taken to maintain art work and protect it from blight and ruin. Temperature and humidity are rigidly controlled. Gloves are worn during handling. The skills of preservationists are eagerly applied. The gallery becomes a mausoleum, and new art is consciously made with the promise of possible inclusion into this rarified and hermetic vault.
Spiral Jetty (1970) is an art work that has stood in opposition to all this. It was purposefully conceived outside the sterility of the clean, white gallery. It was intentionally made to draw attention to natural processes and decay.
Today the “art world” is talking about restoring Spiral Jetty, which is contrary to the spirit of the piece, denying the very processes it was meant to illustrate and embrace. Preservation would destroy the idea behind the work — destroy art in the name of art preservation. The artist himself wrote about Spiral Jetty being absorbed by the processes of atrophy and time but, for some reason, the art world seems to have trouble imagining this kind of decay as a property of art.
In the 1980s artists proclaimed “art-as-commodity”. Among these artists was Jeff Koons, a commodities trader. The material value of art became paramount, and art was seen as an investment to be traded and re-traded at ever increasing profit. The most opulent art object of this type was a diamond encrusted skull which was traded and re-traded for tens of millions of dollars immediately preceding the stock market meltdown. Perhaps this skull will remain as testament to the greed of it’s time, much like Fabergé eggs bear witness to the opulence of the Russian monarchy before it’s fall.
The talk now is about a more modest approach to life and living. This might include an heightened awareness of our place in the overall scheme of things, for prominent among the issues now is the looming crisis concerning our natural environment. So the processes of nature cannot be denied, and the integrity of our material world can be gravely threatened by environmental collapse. Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty eloquently suggests there are things essential to life and living other than objects-for-their-own-sake … and other things important to art as well.