Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Dia poised to retain “Spiral Jetty”-site lease

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The Dia Art Foundation is positioned to re-claim the lease for the 10 acres of state land on which Robert Smithson’s masterwork Spiral Jetty sits as early as this week, MAN has learned. Dia will meet with officials from the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands in Utah on Thursday, at which point DNR and Dia will hold what could be the final negotiation to determine terms for a new lease.

Spiral Jetty, located just off Rozel Point in the north of the Great Salt Lake, is one of the most influential artworks of the 20th century and is widely regarded as the world’s greatest earthwork.

“The likely scenario is that the lease will be re-negotiated and awarded to Dia,” DNR spokesperson Jason Curry confirmed on Tuesday afternoon. Curry said that no other negotiations or meetings are planned with the two other lease applicants. Curry said that the lease details, including but not limited to the term and cost, were still in draft form and that it would be premature to discuss them ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. He emphasized that a lease with Dia is not complete, but that Dia is the “likely” winner. [Image: Spiral Jetty via Flickr user Bryce W. Garner.]

Dia had held the site lease since 1999, when the Smithson estate donated the artwork to Dia. However, the status of Dia’s lease was thrown into doubt in June, when Dia and DNR became enmeshed in an administrative snafu as a result of which Dia may have failed to renew its lease after it expired earlier this year.

When the apparent availability of the lease became public in June, the DNR’s Forestry, Fire and State Lands division accepted three lease applications for the Spiral Jetty site: from Dia, from a new non-profit called The Jetty Foundation and from 89-year-old Seattle collector and philanthropist Herbert Steiner. Scott R. Jenkins, Steiner’s attorney, told me that it is his understanding that Steiner was not successful in bidding for the lease. Jetty Foundation founder Greg Allen declined to comment because the process is still ongoing, but he said that he had no plans to withdraw his application if and until the entire process is complete.

“It is happening and we’re happy to be moving forward,” Katie Sonnenborn, Dia’s director of external affairs told me on Tuesday.

A source close to the situation told MAN that a key lease term is expected to be that Dia agree to partner with a local art organization, effectively an adaptation the proposal put forth by The Jetty Foundation — minus The Jetty Foundation’s involvement. Sonnenborn said that Dia would have no comment on possible lease terms until after meeting with DNR on Thursday.

That requirement would ensure that the Spiral Jetty-site lease-holder is more involved in Great Salt Lake-related conservation and management issues, particularly when it comes to state and regional planning. The GSL is the focus of two ongoing state-level initiatives, the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, which was created by the Utah legislature, and DNR’s decennial review of GSL management. By requiring that New York-based Dia find a local partner engaged in Utah and GSL-related issues, DNR would seem to be indicating that it wants to include consideration of the future of Spiral Jetty when the state considers the future of the lake and its ecosystem. (Earlier this month Dia told MAN that it has not been involved with any of Utah’s major GSL oversight or planning bodies since 2008.)

MAN has learned that Dia’s likely partner is the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which is based at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. It is not clear how long a Dia-UMFA relationship would take to work out, a process which could result in a delay before any formal announcement of a lease signing. According to UMFA director Gretchen Dietrich, the museum and Dia have not yet formalized a relationship or talked with DNR about a partnership. Still, Dietrich said that the UMFA has a pre-existing relationship with Dia and that it is ready to work with DNR and with Dia to ensure the future of Spiral Jetty. She expects to be engaged in conversations with both Dia and DNR on Thursday. [Image: UMFA, via Machado and Silvetti Associates.]

“I don’t have more specific information about what the lease will or will not include,” Dietrich told me on Tuesday. “We’re committed to helping in any way we can, and if we are invited to work with DNR and with Dia, we’d be happy to do everything we can to ensure that the Jetty remains cared for and is protected going forward. However, it’s safe to say that conversations about that lie in the future. We are very happy to play a role. But what that exactly works out to be determined by these three parties.”

Dietrich said that she believed that the three parties would succeed in coming to an agreement about some form of shared stewardship or involvement with the Jetty site. She said that she wasn’t sure how her organization would fund its new, potential involvement with Spiral Jetty, but that there is a growing sense in Utah that Spiral Jetty is important to the state and she hopes that the funding community will respond to that.

“I really believe Dia is the right entity to take the lead on Spiral Jetty and I think we will in short order know what’s going on,” Dietrich said, referring to Thursday’s meeting between Dia and DNR officials. “I think it’s appropriate that if there’s a local organization to take the lead on [engaging with the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council or with the DNR planning process] that it be the MFA.” [Image: Robert Smithson, Spiral of Sulphur, 1970. Collection of UMFA.]

Dia and UMFA have worked together before, most notably around the just-closed UMFA exhibition “The Smithson Effect,” which explored Robert Smithson’s impact on contemporary art. Dietrich said that Dia helped UMFA build out the show’s web presence, especially the section on Spiral Jetty.

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  1. It would be nice now if the Dia foundation would go out there and add some more rocks to the jetty. being that so many people travel thousands of miles to see the thing and it’s underwater by the time they get there. I know Smithson was more interested in entropy in his works, but the Dia sure isn’t.

  2. Abel says:

    @Jeffery — It’s only recently gone back under the water. For much of the last decade it’s been out of the water due to the low levels of the Great Salt Lake. Give it a few years and the rocks will be uncovered again.

  3. […] And it looks like the Spiral Jetty will go to…Dia. […]

  4. […] to Modern Art Notes, the Dia Foundation is moving closer to resolving the issue in which its lease of the land at the […]

  5. […] Artnet News announced yesterday that the Dia Foundation is finalizing an agreement with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands over the lease of the 10-acres of state owned land on which Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is situated. The Dia is establishing a Special Use Lease with Utah after its 20-year lease expired in February amid rumors that the foundation failed to make payments and was on the verge of loosing control of the seminal earthwork. The issue of ownership and control of the iconic earthwork is a fascinating study in itself. If you want to read more, go to the Salt Lake Tribune (June 23, 2011 and July 22, 2011) , the Hyperallergic blog (June 14, 2011 and August 6, 2011) and Artinfo. […]

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