Some Void Thoughts On Museums

"Tomb furniture achieved apparently contradictory ends in discarding old things all the while retaining them, much as in our storage warehouses, and museum deposits, and antiquarian storerooms."

George Kubler,The Shape of Time:
Remarks on the History of Things

History is a facsimile of events held together by finally biographical information. Art history is less explosive than the rest of history, so it sinks faster into the pulverized regions of time. History is representational, while time is abstract; both of these artifices may be found in museums, where they span everybody's own vacancy. The museum undermines one's confidence in sense data and erodes the impression of textures upon which our sensations exist. Memories of 'excitement' seem to promise something, but nothing is always the result. Those with exhausted memories will know the astonishment.

Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Hallways lead the viewer to things once called 'pictures' and 'statues." Anachronisms hang and protrude from every angle. Themes without meaning press on the eye. Multifarious nothings permute into false windows (frames) that open up into a variety of blanks. Stale images cancel one's perception and deviate one's motivation. Blind and senseless, one continues wandering around the remains of Europe, only to end in that massive deception 'the art history of the recent past'. Brain drain leads to eye drain, as one's sight defines emptiness by blankness. Sightings fall like heavy objects from one's eyes. Sight becomes devoid of sense, or the sight is there, but the sense is unavailable. Many try to hide this perceptual falling out by calling it abstract. Abstraction is everybody's zero but nobody's nought. Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum. Painting, sculpture and architecture are finished, but the art habit continues. Art settles into a stupendous inertia. Silence supplies the dominant chord. Bright colors conceal the abyss that holds the museum together. Every solid is a bit of clogged air or space. Things flatten and fade. The museum spreads its surfaces everywhere, and becomes an untitled collection of generalizations that mobilize the eye.

Text excerpted from ROBERT SMITHSON: THE COLLECTED WRITINGS, 2nd Edition, edited by Jack Flam, The University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California; University of California Press, LTD. London, England; 1996
Originally published: The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt, New York, New York
University Press, 1979
ISBN # 0-520-20385-2

The Eliminator, 1964
A Short Description of Two Mirrored Crystal Structures, 1965
Entropy And The New Monuments, 1966
The Crystal Land, Harper's Bazaar, May 1966
Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read, Press Release for
Language show at the Virginia Dwan Gallery, New York, (1967)

Some Void Thoughts On Museums, Arts Magazine, February 1967
Minus Twelve, Minimal Art, edited by Gregory Battcock, 1968
A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites, 1968
Cultural Confinement, Artforum, 1972



All site content including Smithson art and text is © 2001 Holt-Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai