Robert Smithson’s Dream Come True – In a Quarry Hotel in Shanghai?

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Land Art in the form of a hotel?

More than that – it’s also an aquatic park, aquarium, rock climber’s haven… not to mention extreme sports fanatics’ playground. Best of all, all these will provide great entertainment for the hotel guests on their balcony, win-win, I imagine.

The Economist reported today that a new hotel, the InterContinental Shimao Wonderland is being built near Shanghai  in China, in the bottom of a quarry in Tianmashan (Heaven Horse Mountain).

The American  land artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973), known for his Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, had been active in making proposals for land art in industrial waste sites, such as craters left by mining companies. A patron, art collector and mining investor Timothy Collins started  sending Smithson’s  land reclamation proposals to major corporations, including Kennecott Copper Corporation, US Steel and Union Carbide.  One of them is the Bingham Copper Mining Pit (1973).  Unfortunately, no project materialized and Collins stopped sending proposals after Smithson’s untimely death in July of 1973.

But that was not Smithson’s only failure. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which recently moved a giant rock, Levitated Mass, by the land artist Michael Heizer  from a Riverside county quarry 100 miles to the museum’s site on Wilshire boulevard amidst great fanfare, had attempted to arrange a residency for Smithson with a steel and cement company back in the late 1960s.  As recounted by Stuart Morgan in his essay,  An Art Against Itself: Functions of Drawings in Robert Smithson’s Work, in 1978:

Directors of the Los Angeles County Museum’s Art and Technology program introduced [Smithson] to a steel and cement company who agreed to accept him as artist-in-residence until they saw that his proposals included a collapsed mine tunnel, a demolished building, a landslide, and a display of raw materials. A polite but firm refusal followed.   

What would Smithson have thought of this hotel project?

Land Art came in the 1960s as idealistic young artists attempted to make art “Outside the studio, outside the museum, outside the commerce of the city…”

Has art now been completely commercialized? Or has commerce recognized the ideals of art?

Neither, I think.

The hotel project is (if at all) an application of art, but it’s not art – just as technology is the application of science – based in science, but it’s not science.

Perhaps pure art will always be against itself when it comes to society’s norms.

And this may be at best yet another example of Duchamp’s words being taken too literally. He said regarding art and commercial  demands:

The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.

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