James Cohan Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of early works on paper by Robert Smithson, best known for his monumental earthwork the Spiral Jetty (1970). This exhibition, Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read, borrows its title from a press release which Smithson wrote for a show based on language at the Dwan Gallery in 1967. The exhibition which features a selection of free- hand linear ink drawings and collages from 1962-63 emphasizes text as a visual component.
In the early 1960s, Smithson's interest in concrete poetry led him to explore the visual possibilities of language in numerous works, culminating in his renowned drawing, "A Heap of Language" (1966). Critical to the development of his concept of language, these earlier works on paper explore his belief that language "is matter and not ideas, 'printed matter'". The drawings have two distinct styles: one in which the text finds its visual equivalent as in concrete poetry, the other in which the text is used more disjunctively, freeing the image of an overall uniform structure. Their iconography is polymorphous and humorous, incorporating imagery drawn from popular culture (film, Sci-fi, 42nd Street, Las Vegas) as well as mythology, sexuality, nature and technology.
To further illustrate Smithson's keen interest in language for both its content and formal components, we will also exhibit two published articles written and graphically designed by Smithson, "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space" (Arts Magazine, 1966) and "Strata: A Geophotographic Fiction", (Aspen Review, c.1972 ).