New exhibition of unseen Robert Smithson drawings opens at Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome

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New exhibition of unseen Robert Smithson drawings opens at Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome
Robert Smithson, Creeping Jesus, 1961. Collage fotografico e gouache su carta / Photo collage and gouache on paper 45.7 x 35.6 cm. Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery. © Holt/Smithson Foundation / Concesso in licenza da / Licensed by Artists Rights Society, New York.

ROME.- Holt/Smithson Foundation began an exhibition late last November of Robert Smithson’s early, and largely unseen, drawings at MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome. "Rome is still falling" brings together twenty-two early works Smithson made between 1960 and 1964, the majority presented to the public for the first time, from the collection of Holt/Smithson Foundation, which will remain on view through May 21st, 2023.

Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was a self-taught artist whose interests in science fiction, philosophy, travel, geology, architectural ruins and popular culture informed his entire body of work. His oeuvre includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, photographs, writings and earthworks.

In 1961, at twenty-three, Robert Smithson travelled to Rome for his solo show of religious-themed paintings at George Lester Gallery. During his three-month stay, Smithson was able to further explore his interest in Western history topics he described as Byzantine art, ideas of archetype, myth and anthropomorphism, and what he named the “façade of Catholicism.” As he reflected in 1972: “I guess I was always interested in origins and primordial beginnings, you know, the archetypal nature of things. This was always haunting me all the way through until about 1959 and 1960 when I got interested in Catholicism, through T. S. Eliot and through that range of thinking. T. E. Hulme led me to an interest in Byzantine and his notions of abstraction as a counterpoint to the Humanism of the late Renaissance.”

This period is also marked by what Smithson described as an artistic and spiritual “inner crisis.” "Rome is still falling" takes the George Lester Gallery exhibition as its starting point to present a lesser-known earlier body of work that both draws upon and departs from Smithson’s spiritual and religious concerns during his time in Rome. Its title originates from a letter by Smithson to his wife the artist Nancy Holt, written in the Eternal City in July 1961, where, floating in the bottom-right corner of the paper, are the four words: "Rome is still falling".

The time preceding 1964-65 Smithson described as a “period of research, of investigation.” It represents a moment of experimentation, transition, and development. Smithson reflected that he “began to function as a conscious artist around 1964-5.” The works on paper range from representations of Christ’s feet, face, and fall, to advertisements and magazine cut-outs, interspersed with painted religious themes, moving to black ink and pencil winged figures and architectural structures surrounded by language. The later works on paper in "Rome is still falling", made in 1965, introduce the viewer to another period in Smithson’s oeuvre: a set of drawings he began in 1963, at the age of twenty-five in New York, where religious imagery is fully replaced with figures from comic books, erotic magazines and popular culture.

Robert Smithson (1938–1973) was born in Passaic, New Jersey. He attended classes in New York at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum School while still in high school. He moved to New York in the late 1950s, where he began to paint, draw and make collages, and had his first solo show at Artists Gallery in 1959. His work encompasses paintings, drawings, sculptures, architectural schemes, films, photographs, writings, earthworks and everything in between. Smithson's works are in numerous museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Dia Art Foundation, Museum of Modern Art, New York, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Recently his work has been in solo exhibitions at the University of Queensland, Brisbane (2018); Montclair Museum of Art, New Jersey (2014); Dallas Museum of Art, Texas (2013); Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland (2012); and Center for Visual Arts, Emmen, Netherlands (2011). In 2004 an important retrospective opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California, traveled to the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas, and ended at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2005.

MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome
With "Rome is still falling", MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome continues its ongoing investigation of Rome’s exhibition history within the careers of international artists who lived and worked in the city in the late twentieth-century.

Holt/Smithson Foundation
In 2014 Nancy Holt willed Holt/Smithson Foundation into being. Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and Robert Smithson (1938-1973) transformed the world of art and ideas. Holt/Smithson Foundation develops their distinctive creative legacies. Collaborating with artists, writers, thinkers, and institutions, Holt/Smithson Foundation realize exhibitions, publish books, initiate artist commissions, program educational events, encourage research, and develop collections globally from headquarters in New Mexico.

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