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robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands

in 1971, american artist robert smithson carved ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ into the shoreline of a former sand mine near the city of emmen, in the netherlands. the monumental land art piece, which marks smithson’s only extant earthwork outside of the US, consists of two parts: ‘broken circle’, a semi-circular jetty built into a quarry lake filled with reflecting green water; and ‘spiral hill’, a cone-shaped hill beside the lake. the quarry and ‘broken circle’ can be seen from the top of the hill, reached via a spiraling path, while at the center of the circle is an immovable huge boulder deposited by ancient glacial movements. ‘smithson was fascinated by the constructed and reclaimed nature of the dutch landscape, and in emmen he found a perfect location to explore ideas core to his artistic practice,’ lisa le feuvre, holt/smithson foundation executive director, tells designboom in an interview.

 

‘broken circle/spiral hill’ was created for the 1971 edition of the temporary outdoor exhibition sonsbeek, one year after his much referenced ‘spiral jetty’ at rozel point on the great salt lake in utah (more about it here). smithson is known to have donated the piece to the people of the netherlands, however, as it is sited on private land, its future remains uncertain. upon the artwork’s fiftieth anniversary, the holt/smithson foundation and land art contemporary are working with CBK emmen and dutch partners to program a series of open weekends between july and october 2021, featuring talks, screenings, and presentations. ‘in 2021 our ambition is to build a sustainable future for the artwork, to enable it to inspire future generations,’ says le feuvre.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands ‘broken circle/spiral hill’, courtesy of land art contemporary and holt/smithson foundation (also header image)

header video by carlos mora for land art contemporary featuring anne reenders, lisa le feuvre and the director of sonsbeek beyond the limits

 

 

robert smithson’s ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ is a land artwork with a rich history, a deep resonance for the present, and an unknown future. the artist described it as ‘a major piece’ and it sparked his interest in working with industry and post-industrial landscape to make art ‘a necessary part of their reclamation projects.’ sited on private land, the artwork’s future is uncertain as it was donated to the people of the netherlands, but the specifics of how the work should be cared for and who should take responsibility for the land on which it sits are unclear.

 

 

working with the current landowners and dutch partners land art contemporary, the holt/smithson foundation aims to secure a sustainable future of this artwork and to find support to bring the land into public ownership. designboom spoke with lisa le feuvre, the foundation’s executive director, to learn more about the artwork’s significance to this day, robert smithson’s notions of the future, and what she hopes visitors to the 2021 open weekends will take away from their visit.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlandsstill from nancy holt and robert smithson, breaking ground: broken circle/spiral hill (1971-2011) © holt/smithson foundation/ licensed by VAGA at ARS

 

 

designboom (DB): what makes ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ so significant to this day, in the context of both art history and the local community of emmen? 

 

 

lisa le feuvre (LlF): ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ is sited in a former sand-mine, cut into the side of a terminal moraine. the site is a place where you can see geological with you own eyes. smithson was fascinated by the constructed and reclaimed nature of the dutch landscape, and in emmen he found a perfect location to explore ideas core to his artistic practice.

what I love about this artwork is that is shows us how landscape is first shaped by geological history, and second by human history. this earthwork embodies smithson’s interest in post-industrial landscapes. he was committed to making art a necessary and urgent part of everyday life, and envisioned a future where artists worked with industry to draw attention to the ecological impact of human beings on the world.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands‘broken circle’ shortly after completion in 1971
robert smithson, ‘broken circle’ (1971) | emmen, the netherlands | water, sand, and boulder | diameter: 140 ft. (42.6 m); canal: 12 ft. (3.6 m) wide, 10-15 ft. (3-4.5 m) deep
image by robert smithson © holt/smithson foundation / licensed by VAGA at ARS

 

 

DB: what ideas does ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ address, specifically regarding robert smithson’s notions of the future?

 

 

LlF: smithson often talked about the future, and he was fascinated with the idea of entropy – that everything rises into ruin. smithson was committed to working with landscapes scarred by industry, thinking through future uses for exhausted landscapes. ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ imagines a future where a former sand mine can be a location to think deeper and look harder at the surface of our planet.

 

robert smithson’s ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ is an artwork with a rich history, with a deep resonance for the present, and with an unknown future. in 2021 our ambition is to build a sustainable future for the artwork, to enable it to inspire future generations.

robert-smithson-broken-circle-spiral-hill-former-sand-mine-netherlands-earthwork-designboom-large
DB: what do you hope visitors to ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ take away from their visit? what new perspectives can be understood about smithson’s practice overall? 

 

 

LlF: I really hope that there is an understanding of just how very important this artwork is. smithson’s only earthwork located outside of the united states, ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ was made the year following his much referenced ‘spiral jetty’, which is located at rozel point on the great salt lake in utah. ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ expands these ideas further, and it doing so demonstrates smithson’s commitment to asking questions about the climate emergency that is so palpable fifty years after the artwork was made.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands‘broken circle/spiral hill’, courtesy of land art contemporary and holt/smithson foundation

 

 

DB: can you briefly introduce the holt/smithson foundation’s mission and ambitions? 

 

 

LlF: nancy holt and robert smithson transformed the world of art and ideas. our foundation develops their distinctive creative legacies, and our ambition is to become the hub of all things holt and smithson. collaborating with artists, writers, thinkers, and institutions we realize exhibitions, publish books, initiate artist commissions, program educational events, encourage research, and develop collections globally from our headquarters in new mexico.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands‘broken circle/spiral hill’, courtesy of land art contemporary, merjin vrij and holt/smithson foundation

 

 

DB: what do you think makes the work of nancy holt and robert smithson so important and beloved to this day?

 

 

LlF: these two artists built the ground from which contemporary art has grown. they recalibrated what art can be and where it can be found. their shared profound commitment to thinking about how we humans make sense of the world around us is so very rich – they ask important questions about place, people, perception, and possibilities of expanding our understanding of our place in the world.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlands‘broken circle/spiral hill’ drawing

 

 

holt/smithson foundation and land art contemporary are working with CBK emmen and dutch partners to program a series of events to celebrate the half century anniversary. CBK emmen presents an outdoor exhibition of photographs by jan niks, documenting the making of ‘broken circle/spiral hill’ in 1971. see broken circle for full details and dates.robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlandsa photograph of spiral hill in 2011

robert smithson, ‘spiral hill’ (1971) | emmen, the netherlands | earth, topsoil, sand | diameter: 75 ft. (22.9 m) at base

©holt/smithson foundation/licensed by VAGA at ARS

robert-smithson-broken-circle-spiral-hill-former-sand-mine-netherlands-earthwork-designboom-large2

robert smithson, ‘spiral jetty’, 1970 | image by gianfranco gorgoni

robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlandsrobert smithson, ‘amarillo ramp’ (1973)

robert smithson's monumental earthwork 'broken circle/spiral hill' opens in the netherlandsrobert smithson, asphalt rundown (1969)

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