A Major Earthwork by Robert Smithson Comes on View in the Netherlands

Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, the land artist's only earthwork outside the United States, will come into public view throughout the summer to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In 1971, Robert Smithson unveiled Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, a monumental earthwork carved into the shoreline of a former sand mine near Emmen, The Netherlands, one year after he finished Spiral Jetty on Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Both earthworks were located near derelict industrial sites, which spoke to his long-term fascination with humanity’s fraught relationship with the environment. Unlike Spiral Jetty, however, which cemented Smithson’s legacy as one of the Land Art movement’s seminal figures, Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is Smithson’s only earthwork outside the United States and is rarely on view for the public. It also consists of multiple parts: a semi-circular jetty built into a quarry lake filled with green water, a cone-shaped hill near the lake, and a huge unmovable boulder deposited by ancient glacial movements.

Smithson created Broken Circle/Spiral Hill for the temporary outdoor show Sonsbeek in 1971 and donated it to the Netherlands as an ode to the country’s built landscapes. Though it remains one of his most ambitious and large-scale works, its location on private land means that public viewings are rare, issues of preservation aren’t easily addressed, and its future remains uncertain. For the work’s 50th anniversary, the Holt/Smithson Foundation and Land Art Contemporary are teaming up to program eight open weekends through October in which the public can visit the work and attend talks, screenings, and other events that dive into its legacy. 

“Smithson was committed to working with landscapes scarred by industry, thinking through future uses for exhausted landscapes,” Lisa Le Feuvre, executive director of the Holt/Smithson Foundation, says in a recent interview. “Broken Circle/Spiral Hill imagines a future where a former sand mine can be a location to think deeper and look harder at the surface of our planet. In Emmen, he found a perfect location to explore ideas core to his artistic practice.” If you’re in Europe this season, we recommend booking tickets now—space to see Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is limited and sure to fill up quickly.

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