Thursday, May 28, 2009
23 Days and Counting: "Amarillo Ramp"
Amarillo Ramp, 1973
Amarillo Ramp, 1994
Amarillo Ramp is reserved! "LBK" AKA Long Board Kid (see O'Brien's text below = this should be entertaining) will be driving us there on 7th July. This earthwork has more meaning to me because Smithson died while working on it than the object itself. My expectations are minimal but still feel it is an important piece to see.
Here is some more information from my notes:
Robert Smithson worked on the 396 foot long Amarillo Ramp, a curved slowly rising jetty done in Amarillo, Texas in 1973. The jetty which rose to a maximum height of 12 feet, formed an open circle 150 feet in diameter and was made from red shale and earth. When it was first built, the area was submerged in a lake. Smithson and Nancy Holt placed posts in the lake and eventually drained it to create the work.
Seen initially from above as it is approached, this work changes significantly upon being entered. By walking upon it, the viewer is aware of his/her constantly changing relationship to the surroundings and heightened sense of the temperature, light, and sounds of nature. The sculpture is a partial circle built on a dry lake bed in an area rich in flint. The color of the earth changes throughout the day.
The water level had risen and the stakes were almost submerged so it was necessary to drain the lake. They emptied the lake and later refilled it – though it was photographed when the lake was dry. Again as the Jetty, a dump truck backed out onto the ramp and continually deposited piles of earth that its wheels flattened out. The rock embankment is about ten feet across and at the top of the surface, sloped down on each side and is edged with boulders.
Smithson used a symbol associated with pre-modern religion that shows a movement or transition between states of being. The ouroboros, a motif that appears in the imagery of the medieval alchemy, suggests a cyclical pattern as in an eternal return to a beginning, followed by growth, death, and again rebirth.
I just remembered while reading this that Stanley Marsh commissioned this work in addition to that "other" sculpture we are seeing in Amarillo by Ant Farm:
Titus O'Brien wrote this for Glasstire last August. It's very informative about what to expect (= not much from the artwork and a lot from the people who will take us there). Highlights from his text follow:
"I managed to set up a meeting with Stanley Marsh 3 and his assistant, a guy going by some serial-killer sounding moniker that I didn't quite catch, who was going to take me to Robert Smithson's Amarillo Ramp. I knew generally of Marsh by his association with Cadillac Ranch and the Ant Farm guys, Smithson and more vaguely as an art collector and all-around Texan eccentric. He certainly lived up to the rep.
"Marsh's offices occupy an entire floor in Amarillo's lone skyscraper, the 30-story Chase bank tower. The elevator opens up to a beat-up children's romper room full of giant, dirty, brightly colored vinyl shapes, and some bad Gorky and Pollock copies. I wandered into a neighboring room, known as "The Office." Three wasted-looking twenty-something art dudes were sprawled out amidst a scene of total destruction, filth and trashed/trash art, watching (what else?) "A Clockwork Orange." It looked like every stoner art school apartment I ever saw, or in a couple cases, lived in.
"I was greeted by a slow-to-rise, elf-like scrawny blond wastrel who had the distinct features of a guy who needs to eat more food and less drugs. LBK, as he's known, later admitted to having been on a bit of bender the night before ("a bit of crack and dirty speed" was the descrip of his prescrip), but though sleepless, for the next few hours he cheerfully, if a bit self-obsessively, acted as my tour guide of Marshville. I only wished he'd stop inserting himself into every picture I was trying to take.
"We left the Chase building and walked across the street to LBK's studio, a graffiti covered, disused old auto shop devoid of much production. I listened to the ongoing ballad of LBK throughout the day: how he was essentially a runaway street punk drawn into Marsh's orbit, who with a group of similarly self-mythologizing kids, generally raise hell in Amarillo, periodically finding themselves in jail only to be bailed out by Marsh. Marsh keeps LBK on salary, and having him act as caretaker and general PR person seems like a decision in keeping with a somewhat questionable MO.
"We drove out to the Floating Mesa, which in keeping with the general vibe, from a dozen miles away was visibly rusting. Then we drove out to the Ramp. It's remote, a dozen miles or more out deep into ranch land on dirt roads. It was real Texas out there, and you can see what must have been the allure for Smithson. I was interested to hear the story behind its creation, and how the site had been converted from an old watering hole. The ramp itself sits down in a small basin, and you come upon it from above. There had been recent rains, and the scrub was vivid green against the red soil. The sky was overcast, making everything appear both closer and more sharply delineated.
"It was frankly sort of sad, and surprisingly small. Once over 20 feet tall at its high point, it seemed no more than ten now, a worn down, weed covered, neglected berm of dirt you'd just mistake for an old watering trough dam. A phantom. In itself that's ok. Smithson was all about entropy. And he of course never saw the thing constructed anyway, having famously lost his life surveying the land by air and crashing a few hundred feet from the site. Marsh claims Smithson's wife Nancy Holt finished it with help from Richard Serra, though others dispute Serra's involvement. You can almost envision what Smithson was after; descending the slope to the ramp, watching it rise against the flat background and distant mesas, ascending its slow spiraling rise...almost.
"Whatever the experience might once have been, now you just think, in a few more years this thing will be gone. It's almost to the stage where it looks like one good prairie thunderstorm could wash it away forever. The real kicker is that LBK has painted dozens of stones on and around it, large and small, a shocking fluorescent green. He rambled about painting fire hydrants in town the same green, and weaving some mythic yarn about him finding the last Smithson diary and channeling Smithson's ghost or something, and with the influence of drugs and advent of the Age of Narcissism he feels he has every right to "engage" Smithson's final work in dialogue as peer. Or to just deface it -- you be the judge. Hey, Stanley Marsh 3 doesn't care; why should you? All those artists and nosy curators from Dia are just full of shit anyway, right? I wonder what all the other pilgrimistas think about this tour. I assume mine wasn't all that exceptional. LBK said folks come fairly often, and he enjoys messing with them."