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Utah Museum of Fine Art to host community meet-up to educate Utahns about the Spiral Jetty

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The Spiral Jetty, one of Utah's iconic landmarks, is the focus of a community meet-up hosted by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 1 to help raise awareness and share information about the piece of land art.

The Spiral Jetty is one of the most important artworks of the 20th century, said Whitney Tassie, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.

“It’s very clear that a lot of people know that there is something, some sculpture, artwork or landmark in the Great Salt Lake,” Tassie said in an interview with the Deseret News. “People have heard of it, but it was very clear to me that there’s some misunderstanding around the work, around its purpose, around its origin, around its maker.”

The free community meet-up is Oct. 1 from 1-4 p.m. at the Spiral Jetty, which is at Rozel Point in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake, just beyond the Golden Spike National Historic Monument. It's about two hours north of Salt Lake City.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is working with representatives from the Dia Art Foundation, which owns the Spiral Jetty, and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College, whose students and faculty do research on the water and organisms that live in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake. Representatives from the three groups are scheduled to be at the community meet-up.

“It’s been really fun to work with the Great Salt Lake Institute and the Dia Art Foundation to raise awareness about this really significant internationally renowned artwork we have here in our backyard,” Tassie said.

Robert Smithson created the Spiral Jetty in three weeks in April 1970, according to Kelly Kivland, associate curator at Dia Art Foundation. With the help of a construction team, Smithson built the jetty using 6,000 tons of black basalt rock and earth formed into a coil shape, she said. The jetty is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide.

“It’s a great treasure of what one would call land art,” Kivland said in an interview.

Kivland said the Spiral Jetty is one of the more publicly accessible pieces of land art. Adding to its iconic nature is that it was submerged for 30 years, making it practically invisible during that time.

“(Robert Smithson) created it at a time of low water levels, and then a couple of years later it was completely submerged. It was really only known through documentations, so it had this mythic quality to it,” Kivland said. “But then droughts happened 30 years later and it began to appear. So ever since 2002, people have made the pilgrimage to journey there to see it because it held this mythic status of being unseen for all that time.”

Kivland said Smithson chose the Great Salt Lake for the Spiral Jetty because of unique physical qualities of the north arm of the Great Salt Lake, which include the red water, high levels of salt and black basalt rock.

The unique coloration of the water by the Spiral Jetty is due to the microbes that live in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake, said Jaimi Butler, coordinator of the Great Salt Lake Institute. Because of the harsh living environments of high heat and high saline levels, these organisms protect themselves using pigments in their cell membranes that cause the water to stay a hue of red, orange, pink or purple, Butler said.

“I get a lot of people telling me that it’s like being on the moon or it’s like being on Mars or really funny explanations for how it feels,” Butler said. “One of my students one time told me that if she was a unicorn, she would live at Spiral Jetty.”

Also commonly seen from the Spiral Jetty are the American white pelicans flying overhead. Butler said these pelicans come from the major pelican colony on Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake. About 18,000 pelicans stayed to breed on the predator-free island, Butler said. One of their flight routes to get food is straight over the Spiral Jetty on their way to Bear River Bay.

“You really see (the Spiral Jetty) change over time, be it the color or the water levels or even how the sky looks that day, or sometimes you see foam on the shorelines or pelicans flying overhead,” Butler said. “Every time I go out there, it’s a different experience.”

The community meet-up is one of several events in the UFMA's "ARTLandish: Land Art, Landscape and the Environment" series. Earlier this year, it hosted a community meet-up at the Sun Tunnels. The museum will host Mexican artist Guillermo Galindo on Oct. 6 and Trevor Paglen on Oct. 27 in the museum's auditorium at 410 Campus Center Drive in Salt Lake City.

If you go ...

What: Spiral Jerry community meet-up hosted by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts

When: Saturday, Oct. 1, 1-4 p.m.

Where: Spiral Jetty: from Salt Lake City, take Interstate 15 north about 65 miles to the exit for Corinne; exit and turn right onto Route 13 (the last gas station is in Corinne); past Corinne, the road becomes Highway 83, and follow the signs to the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center (the last public restrooms are available); drive west on the main gravel road to a fork in the road and continue left, heading west, follow the small white signs directing visitors to Spiral Jetty. See umfa.utah.edu/spiraljettydirections or diaart.org/visit/visit/robert-smithson-spiral-jetty for more detailed directions.

How much: Free

Web: umfa.utah.edu/artlandish

Email: adroge@deseretnews.com