- Robert Smithson
painted steel in 20 units
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1984
Champaign, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, extended loan, 1984-1986
Robert Smithson's Alogon #3, from 1967 is a monumental sculpture that both absorbs and warps the viewer's active vision at the same instant. This contradiction is precisely Smithson's intent and is fundamental to his entire philosophy towards art and how it is perceived. Smithson created three Alogon sculptures in his career in the mid 1960's. All three works are comprised of stepped metal pieces in different variations. Alogon #1 is wall mounted similar to Alogon #3 yet with only 7 units, while Alogon #2 is placed on the floor in 10 units. The present work, by far the most dramatic of the three, is comprised of 20 units that steadily decrease in size with a set interval of space between each unit, playing with vantage point and creating the illusion of a sweeping solid arc across the wall.
Smithson started his career as a painter and began to make sculpture in 1964. He is not considered a Minimalist but utilized much of the vocabulary of Minimalism in his work and was occasionally exhibited in group exhibitions with other Minimalists. His gallery installations are created with rational and clean geometry and incorporate industrial materials. Smithson was born in New Jersey in 1938 and the New Jersey landscape, both natural and industrial, served as an important influence in the artist's career. Beginning with the most traditional means for depicting space, Smithson was interested in cartography and cut out segments of maps to create abstract shapes that then became new compositions. The grids on maps would serve as a great inspiration for sculptures such as Alogon #3. In the next stage of his career, Smithson moved towards full-fledged Earth Art and went on to create masterpieces such as the renowned Spiral Jetty (completed in 1970), a synthesis of nature and art. His Earth Art continued to explore his interest in geometry and perception of space. In his gallery pieces and earth works, the shapes appear to move, depending on the viewer's vantage point. Smithson asserted that scale, "depends on one's capacity to be conscious of the actualities of perception...scale operates by uncertainty." (Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings, Berkeley, 1996, p. 35)
The Alogons are systems devoted to alogic tensions between two equations, the linear and quadratic. They are intended to be a concrete section of the reflections that would occur if an object were to be placed between two parallel mirrors. There would be an infinite continuum in both directions. The static pieces on their own are not particularly arresting, however, when lined up next to each other on the wall, there is a dynamic tension between two logical mathematic systems that becomes 'alogical'. Similar to other Minimalist sculptors, Smithson moved away from frontal sculpture and created "real" three-dimensional forms that firmly exist in the space in which they are viewed. The revolutionary pieces hover somewhere between object and sculpture. In the present work, the sculpture takes over the reality of its space. When the viewer confronts Alogon #3 frontally, the spatial intervals between units are as evident as a wall installation of Judd boxes, yet as the viewer moves to the right or left, the intervals disappear and the overall sculpture achieves a sense of cohesive solidity that soars out into the room.
In ancient Greek philosophy, Logos referred to the reason that is the controlling principle in the universe and was used to define the divine wisdom manifest in creation. Alogon #3 is a clear refutation of logos. According to Robert Hobbs, "it seems 'alogos' of Alogon is to be taken literally in terms of the underlying conflicting logic of the structure and metaphorically in terms of Smithson's insights into the illogical and absurd nature of existence." (Robert Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture, London, 1981, p. 68) The repetitive monotony of the 20 individual units of Alogon #3 is somehow quite the opposite of inert and testifies to the power of Smithson as an artist. This also set Smithson apart from the Minimalists with their self-contained icons or mathematical propositions.
The scientific concept of entropy was of central importance to Smithson. "Entropy refers to the depletion of usable energy that occurs when matter is channeled into increasingly unavailable states requiring the input of more energy to convert them than could possibly be released upon conversion." (Exh. Cat., Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Robert Smithson Sculpture, 1980, n.p.) Understanding Smithson's complex contradictions in his works and writings can also be viewed as another form of entropy as there are such a vast range of possible interpretations that it can become a challenge for a viewer or reader to comprehend all of the possibilities. His interest in entropy also led Smithson to an interest in crystals, an example of energy channeled into unavailable states. The Alogons, as well as many other Smithson sculptures such as The Cryosphere of 1966 (lot 77), suggest a crystal structure that has both clarity and regularity. Alogon #3 is an excellent example of the artist's belief that ideas do not limit creation, rather they provide new means for understanding works. Alogon #3 and The Cryosphere also encapsulate his adherence to a dialectic that concrete forms can be structured without being resolved.