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On Robert Smithson and American Monuments

Brooklyn Rail: Critics' Page Feature - October 5, 2017

Robert Smithson took a bus ride from New York ’s Port Authority to his hometown of Passaic, New Jersey on September 30, 1967. His observations as he walked through the suburban landscape, combined with photo documentation from his Instamatic camera, formed the basis for his most famous piece of writing, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey.” In it, he describes “monuments,” sites of industrial intervention into the land—a wooden footbridge, a pumping derrick, a large sandbox—as instances of ruins in reverse. Rather than structures that eventually crumble and decay, they “rise into ruin before they are built.” This notion runs counter to everything we believe a monument embodies.


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