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Bernd & Hilla Becher, Robert Smithson: Field Trips


hopefulmonster editore, 2002. 172pp. £28.

Distributor Art Books International

It is perhaps not everyone's idea of a fun day out, but in December 1968 the Bechers and Robert Smithson - in different ways, surely among the most influential artists of the past quarter-century - took a trip to Oberhausen, then one of the Ruhr's most dense industrial sites.

The Bechers, aware that these blast furnaces would soon be obsolescent, were already making the 'objective'documentary photographs now familiar in museums and immaculate sober volumes from MIT Press (AJ 13.2.03).Smithson's perspective was much longer: not the Bechers' passing of an historical era but the geological span of origins and endings.Particularly the latter, because Smithson, like such novelists as fellow American, Thomas Pynchon, was preoccupied with entropy, the exhaustion of systems and order.His murky Instamatic photos from the day trip to Oberhausen show a landscape in turmoil; an oozing world of waste.

Smithson went on to stage his own 'geological'events, with pours of asphalt or concrete in abandoned quarries.He brought mineral samples and slag into the gallery like Duchampian readymades, and built large-scale earthworks, most famously the Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake, Utah (which resurfaced last autumn thanks to a drought, after long being submerged).

Field Trips, produced for an exhibition at Alvaro Siza's Serralves Museum in Porto last year, is a mostly visual record of these artists'Oberhausen work, with a fine essay by (Artangel's) James Lingwood.Also included is Smithson's evocative Hotel Palenque: slides of a sleazy Mexican hotel poised equivocally between construction and ruin.

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