• Post-War & Contemporary Evenin auction at Christies

    Sale 2219

    Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale

    10 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 27

    Robert Smithson (1938-1973)

    Untitled

    Price Realised  

    Robert Smithson (1938-1973)
    Untitled
    painted steel and Plexiglas mirror
    81 x 35 x 10 in. (205.7 x 88.9 x 25.4 cm.)
    Executed in 1963-1964.


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    One of Robert Smithson's best crystalline wall sculpture works from the mid-sixties, Untitled absorbs and distorts space in the reflection of its surroundings. By undermining, collapsing, and, ultimately, dispersing vision into multiple, geometric lattices, Smithson turns space into a part of the sculpture itself. The use of light-blue steel for the frame dominates, projecting forward towards the viewer, while the glowing, rose-colored and mirrorized "neon plastic" underneath appear to flatten or recede away. In a juxtaposition of three pairs of mirror configurations, Smithson plays with the formal attributes of both realistic and abstract types of reflections -- elements from the viewer's environment, as well as the sculpture's ability to mirror itself -- providing a range of visual perceptions and experiences.

    Inspired by Smithson's interest in mineralogy and his expeditions with Donald Judd to geological sights, the work possesses the visual symmetry of a crystal, though its framework lies on top of its faceted reflective surfaces, rather than beneath them. In this way, Smithson creates a blurred distinction between the sculpture's framework and its illusionistic, flat colored fields, behind the frames. The sculpture's skeleton also reiterates the framing device often discussed in the sixties, by the adherents of Clement Greenberg's criticism. As Smithson explains, "the frameworks have broken through the surfaces, so to speak, and have become 'paintings'." (R. Smithson quoted in "A Short Description of Two-Mirrored Crystal Structures," ed. J. Flam, The Collected Writings, 1996, p. 328). Traditional perspective is reversed, vanishing points are inverted and space turns into elusive, multi-faceted, flat planes.

    The ideas initiated in this piece are mirrored in later works by the artist, as Smithson continues to plays off realistic reflected images, with shimmering abstract images of mirrors being mirrored, as in the artist's 'Site/Nonsite' works of 1968 and the displaced, reflective surfaces, as he explained in his 1969 essay, "Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan" (1969). In their very act of mirroring the world, Smithson's works reflect their actual circumstances; what Smithson calls "infinity without space" (Ibid.) -- created by parallel mirrors, reflecting each other innumerable times -- is self-enclosed, as the sculpture folds in on itself, and ultimately reflects, abstractly, its ability to reflect.

    Provenance

    Estate of Robert Smithson
    John Weber Gallery, New York, 1967
    Acquired from the above by the present owner


    Pre-Lot Text

    Propery of a Private Collector


    Literature

    N. Holt, ed., The Writings of Robert Smithson, New York, 1979, p. 19 (illustrated).
    R. Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture, Ithaca, 1981, pp. 58 and 129 (illustrated in color).
    J. Flam, ed., Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, Berkeley, 1996, p. 7 (illustrated).
    A. Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 69 and 78 (illustrated).
    J. Roberts, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History, New Haven, 2004, p. 38 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Venice, United States Pavilion, Robert Smithson: A Retrospective View, June-September 1982, p. 30 (illustrated).
    John Weber Gallery, New York, 1987.
    Valencia, IVAM, Centre Julio Gonzalez; Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux Arts and MAC, galeries contemporaines des Musées de Marseille, Robert Smithson, el paisaje entrópico: Una retrospectiva, 1960-1973/Robert Smithson, une retrospective: Le paysage entropique, 1960-1973, April 1993-December 1994, p. 83 and 171 (illustrated in color).
    Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; The Dallas Museum of Art and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Robert Smithson, September 2004-October 2005, Robert Smithson, p. 118 (illustrated in color).
    Kunsthaus Zurich, The Expanded Eye: Stalking the Unseen, June-September 2006.