James Cohan Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Robert Smithson titled Mapping Dislocations. The show will feature a selection of maps, drawings and photographs that highlight Smithson's exploration of mapping and its integral relationship to his works defined as "nonsites" and "displacements".
Robert Smithson is most well known for his monumental earthwork Spiral Jetty, 1970, located in the Great Salt Lake, in Utah. While he is most recognized for his earthworks, Smithson also created a large body of work that explored a variety of themes dealing with the post-industrial landscape, entropy, and paradox. His experiments with maps and mapping began in 1966, when he was commissioned to do a project for the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport. Smithson developed an idea for a low-lying site-specific project to be seen from the air. Smithson's use of topographic maps from that project led him to develop a small but focused body of works based on his notions of mapping as fictive sites that pre-figured his sculptures called nonsites.
In 1970, Smithson was interviewed by Paul Cummings and stated, "The nonsite exists as a kind of deep three dimensional abstract map that points to a specific site on the surface of the earth. And that's designated by a kind of mapping procedure… these places are not destinations; they kind of [are] backwaters or fringe areas".
There are two major sculptures on view that illuminate his relationship to mapping. A Nonsite, Pine Barrens, New Jersey, 1967-68, Smithson's first nonsite and Mirrors and Shelly Sand, 1970, a displacement, which will be exhibited for the first time in the United States since 1970. Mirrors and Shelly Sand is comprised of 50 mirrors 1'h x 4' w back to back with shelly sand.
Smithson's early nonsites combined both a map and a container that housed the earth or industrial materials he brought back from the site he had visited. He thought of the nonsites as "an absence of site" referring to the geographical place where he gathered these materials. Smithson wanted to confound the viewer's perception by constructing a dialectic that referred simultaneously to the indoor gallery space where the work is exhibited and the outdoor site from where he collected the material.
Smithson's map works personify his notion of displacement. He accomplished this conceptual displacement by folding maps, cutting maps and reconfiguring them. One example of displacement which typifies Smithson's imagination, is established in a work on exhibit titled Ruin of Map Hipparchus (100 B.C.) in Oswego Lake Quadrangle (1954-55), 1967, in which Smithson collaged an ancient map of the Middle East together with a map of the Pine Barren's area in New Jersey.