Robert Smithson & Richard Serra

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What is ‘Art’? Does the term describe a tangible object, experiential event, process, technique, medium, or creative skill? Does it imply attractive decoration, pleasant arrangement, and sound financial investment - or can art provoke, be unattractive, make people uncomfortable, and be fleeting? Today, Art is subjective, open to interpretation and encompasses the spectrum of the visual, literary, dance, and musical humanities - often overlapping one another. As such, Art and its practice can be all of the above and more. Post World War II, Modernist theories were waning and a general dissatisfaction was building in the United States and other westernized countries that ultimately led up to the cultural and social revolution of the 1960’s. The period also parallels a rise in relative wealth and subsequent mass consumption of commodities, education, and cultural activities within all the socioeconomic classes. Personal expression became acceptable and art practice exploded to include multiple fields of activity that Rosalind Krauss likens to “an extraordinary practice in elasticity”. Interest in ecology, performance, process, alternative materials, a loosening of social mores and experimentation with altered states of reality contributed to the rise of what is now known amply as Postmodernism. Civil rights, the anti-war movement, rise of feminism, and a political movement left of center created egalitarian entrances for many into various fields of study including Art. Nevertheless, similar to the current state of Western Civilization, not everyone appreciates an open multiplicity of voices often differing in viewpoints from safer, more conservative ones. It is in this context that artists Robert Smithson and Richard Serra bega...

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...f clusters of bucolic, boring and safe park benches and potted plants in the plaza, yet the scar where Tilted Arc once stood remained as a reminder until the plaza was redesigned by Martha Schwartz in 1997. Interestingly, photographic and video documentation, along with the hearing proceedings and written critique of the site and its destruction are more influential than the sculpture itself. Tilted Arc is arguably more powerful today than it was when it graced the federal plaza because its ghost haunts the NEA, conservative politicians, citizens and artists alike. Finally, it could be deducted that the very idea - the deliberations and intentions behind both Tilted Arc and Spiral Jetty are what is still alive despite physical incarnations or lack thereof. In true Postmodernist form, that is just as relevant, if not more than the actual construction of the artwork.

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