Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West

Overview

"Erin Hogan hit the road in her Volkswagen Jetta and headed west from Chicago in search of the monuments of American land art: a salty coil of rocks, four hundred stainless-steel poles, a gash in a mesa, four concrete tubes, and military sheds filled with cubes. Her journey took her through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It also took her through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion. Spiral Jetta is a chronicle of this journey." A lapsed art historian and devoted urbanite, Hogan
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Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West

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Overview

"Erin Hogan hit the road in her Volkswagen Jetta and headed west from Chicago in search of the monuments of American land art: a salty coil of rocks, four hundred stainless-steel poles, a gash in a mesa, four concrete tubes, and military sheds filled with cubes. Her journey took her through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It also took her through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion. Spiral Jetta is a chronicle of this journey." A lapsed art historian and devoted urbanite, Hogan initially sought firsthand experience of the monumental earthworks of the 1970s and 1980s - Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, Walter De Maria's Lightning Field, James Turrell's Roden Crater, Michael Heizer's Double Negative - and the contemporary art mecca of Marfa, Texas. Armed with spotty directions, no compass, and less than desert-appropriate clothing, she found most of what she was looking for and then some. Her encounters with these artworks are recorded here, personal observations lightly draped in art history and theory. But for Hogan this trip was also the most extended time she had spent alone, and her three-thousand-mile circuit through the West became an experiment in solitude, with mixed results.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out . . . or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn’t magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing.”

— Tom Vanderbilt

Science
Blending a humorous travelogue and serious musings, in Spiral Jetta she winds her car and the reader through the complexities of 1970s earthworks and contemporary aesthetics via a varied landscape of people, places, and art. . .  She is great at keeping the reader’s attention: two pages of art philosophy; ten pages of fun.”

— Mary Parrish

Plain Dealer
[An] engaging and sometimes hilarious account of a 'recovering art historian' facing an early midlife crisis. . . . Hogan eloquently discusses the sublime and the intimate . . . and she makes us feel as if we're right down in the trench with her.

— Marc Vincent

New York Times

“I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out . . . or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn’t magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing.”—Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times

— Tom Vanderbilt

Atlantic

“The title’s overly coy allusion to Robert Smithson’s masterpiece doesn’t detract from a smart and winning book. Hogan, the public-affairs director at the Art Institute of Chicago, does her best to arrange an unhappy marriage—a land-art tour ‘through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas’ and ‘through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion’—but the reader emerges enlightened and even delighted. After all, making critical theory fun is quite a feat. Casually scrutinizing the artistic works Sun Tunnels, Double Negative, Roden Crater, and Lightning Field while gamely playing up her fish-out-of-water status, Hogan delivers an ingeniously engaging travelogue-cum-art history.”

Science

“Blending a humorous travelogue and serious musings, in Spiral Jetta she winds her car and the reader through the complexities of 1970s earthworks and contemporary aesthetics via a varied landscape of people, places, and art. . . She is great at keeping the reader’s attention: two pages of art philosophy; ten pages of fun.”

— Mary Parrish

Plain Dealer

"[An] engaging and sometimes hilarious account of a 'recovering art historian' facing an early midlife crisis. . . . Hogan eloquently discusses the sublime and the intimate . . . and she makes us feel as if we're right down in the trench with her."—Marc Vincent, Plain Dealer

— Marc Vincent

Tom Vanderbilt
I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out—self-fulfillment or some new insights into what art is, or what it is for—or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn't magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing. As one guide tells Hogan while they look at art in Marfa, Tex., "You're supposed to draw your own conclusions."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Hogan, director of public affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago and a "recovering art historian" with decidedly urban sensibilities, set out on a road trip to visit the most significant works of land art in the American West and to make an experimental "assault" on her fear of solitude. Hogan's journey in her Volkswagen Jetta began with Robert Smithson's Spiral Jettyby the Great Salt Lake; in eight more chapters she documents her visits to Michael Heizer's Double Negativein Nevada, Walter De Maria's Lightning Fieldin New Mexico, failed attempts to find Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnelsand James Turrell's Roden Crater, along with stops in Moab, Utah; Juárez, Mexico; and Marfa, Tex., "the contemporary art pilgrim's mecca." Hogan's pilgrimage, sparsely illustrated, is part well-informed art historical travelogue and part light foray into self-discovery; her prose is lucid, energetic and expressive, and she is an affable guide. But this narrative does not convincingly convey the depth of her interior journey or the aesthetic insight that Hogan sought to experience. 26 b&w photos, 1 map. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Atlantic
“The title’s overly coy allusion to Robert Smithson’s masterpiece doesn’t detract from a smart and winning book. Hogan, the public-affairs director at the Art Institute of Chicago, does her best to arrange an unhappy marriage—a land-art tour ‘through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas’ and ‘through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion’—but the reader emerges enlightened and even delighted. After all, making critical theory fun is quite a feat. Casually scrutinizing the artistic works Sun Tunnels, Double Negative, Roden Crater, and Lightning Field while gamely playing up her fish-out-of-water status, Hogan delivers an ingeniously engaging travelogue-cum-art history.”
New West
"Spiral Jetta is the perfect read for
— Jenny Shank
Chicago Artist's News
"Hogan is a fine guide, evolking the dry, mostly desolate, Western landscape, while skilfully shaping her sensory experience of the artworks and her reactions to them into a nicely flowing narrative."
School Arts Magazine
"Hogan is funny and intellectually stimulating in her amazing summer art journey."
New York Times - Tom Vanderbilt
“I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out . . . or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn’t magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing.”
Lawrence Weschler
“Across this marvelously unexpected little road saga, the stud muffin cowboys of late twentieth century American art at long last meet their sly gamine match.  Pretty much doing for Land Art what Geoff Dyer did for D. H. Lawrence, Ms. Hogan, an urban fish decidedly out of water, flopping about in the high desert parch, makes for marvelously endearing company.  An at times harrowingly (albeit comically) unreliable navigator (who doesn't bring a compass along on solo treks across such vast empty expanses?), Hogan nevertheless then manages to deploy an expertly modulated prose, tracking the heaviest of subjects with the lightest of touches, melding gravitas and whimsy (vodka and tonic), in a narrative that in the end, like the art it surveys, manages to be about what it is to be an individual alone—pinprick-contingent, achingly vulnerable, gobsmacked enthralled—in the face of all that is.”
Science - Mary Parrish
“Blending a humorous travelogue and serious musings, in Spiral Jetta she winds her car and the reader through the complexities of 1970s earthworks and contemporary aesthetics via a varied landscape of people, places, and art. . .  She is great at keeping the reader’s attention: two pages of art philosophy; ten pages of fun.”
Plain Dealer - Marc Vincent
"[An] engaging and sometimes hilarious account of a 'recovering art historian' facing an early midlife crisis. . . . Hogan eloquently discusses the sublime and the intimate . . . and she makes us feel as if we're right down in the trench with her."
New West - Jenny Shank
"Spiral Jetta is the perfect read for those who enjoy contemporary art but don't have an academic background in it, and it doubles as a fine Western road trip narrative. . . . A diverting, insightful look at the land art of the American West and the characters Hogan encountered along the way."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226348452
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2008
  • Series: Culture Trails Series
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Erin Hogan is director of public affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Spiral Jetty 1

Ch. 2 Sun Tunnels 36

Ch. 3 Moab 61

Ch. 4 Double Negative 77

Ch. 5 Roden Crater 104

Ch. 6 Lightning Field 112

Ch. 7 Juarez 137

Ch. 8 Marfa 144

Doing the Pilgrimage 171

Readings and References 177

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