In the essay "A Sedimentation of the Mind" (1968), Robert Smithson proposes that artists move away from then familiar ideas of cool or hot art toward those of dry, or better, wet art. "The wet mind enjoys 'pools and stains' of paint. 'Paint' itself appears to be a kind of liquefaction." Smithson's immediate reference is color field painting, and its dominant reception within models of instantaneous perception that would minimize these materials, durational aspects of this painting's physical basis in pooled, poured pigment. While many of Smithson's sculptures can be imagined as cultivations of the slow pooling and soaking that color field paintings evokes but represses, this lecture will reframe the artist's one Dutch earthwork — "Broken Circle/Spiral Hill" (1971) — as a surprisingly systematic engagement with arguably the first wet, liquefaction art: Dutch seventeenth-century landscape painting. Linking Smithson's and the Dutch painters' aesthetics of land reclamation, the talk will excavate a soggy path through a little-known Golden Age Smithson, locating key precedents for his interest in wet art in the works of Jacob van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema, and especially Jan van Goyen, who pooled wet pigment on his panels and gradually pulled recognizable forms out of them, re-enacting the work of Dutch hydraulic engineers.
Lytle Shaw is a New York-based writer and critic whose books include Frank O’Hara: the Poetics of Coterie, The Moiré Effect, Narrowcast: Poetry and Audio Research, and New Grounds for Dutch Landscape. He is a contributing editor for Cabinet Magazine and a professor of English at New York University.