Robert Smithson's Library, Painted

 John Hill
12. September 2018
Architecture books in Robert Smithson's Library (Image: Screenshot of
Artist Conrad Bakker has been documenting the life of influential artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973) by creating carved and painted reconstructions of each book in the late artist's 1,120-strong library.
Conrad Bakker describes his Untitled Project: Robert Smithson Library & Book Club as a "recreation of all of the books from Robert Smithson’s personal library," where every book "has been carved out of wood and painted to look like the original." Given that it is "intended to be comprehensive archive," Bakker is sharing his efforts online via a Tumblr blog and has created a second copy of the books to be distributed amongst book club members.

Bakker has been able to actually document Smithson's library since it is now housed at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art in Washington, DC. The Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987, bulk 1952-1987, as it's officially called, were donated by his wife, Nancy Holt, between 1986 and 2011. In addition to Smithson's library, the collection includes correspondences, interview transcripts, photographs, scrapbooks, and the artist's own prolific writings.

​Smithson, a pioneering land artist most famous for the Spiral Jetty in Utah, died in a plane crash in Texas while surveying the site for one of his large-scale artworks. He was only 35, but by then he had amassed a sizable library that is notable for its diversity and depth as well as its size. Bakker has categorized each of Smithson's books on his blog, enabling people to grasp Smithson's varied intellectual interests and better browse the hundreds of books in the archive. Pictured above and below are some of the books tagged "architecture," which range from a Piranesi portfolio to a German book on Baroque pleasure gardens.
[Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, Carceri D’invenzione, (print folio) 1966] Oil paint on carved wood, 2018 (Image via
[Pevsner, Nicolas, From Modernism to Romanticism. Vol. 1 of Studies in Art, Architecture, and Design, 1968] (Image via
[Neubauer, Erika, Lustgärten des Barock, 1966] (Image via

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