Robert Smithson, the Original Balloon Boy

11/18/2009 4:37 PM |

Spiral Jetty Robert Smithson

There’s an interesting piece in yesterday’s Times about the improbably simple solution to the confusing business of documenting the conservation of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), itself an improbably complicated yet, on some level, very simple piece of land art. Basically, when faced with the monumental task of documenting the piece’s evolution as it’s eroded and re-shaped by the waters of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Francesca Esmay, a conservator at the Dia Art Foundation (which owns the piece) collaborated with Rand Eppich at the Getty Conservation Institute to come up with this solution: a digital camera strapped to a helium balloon at the end of a fishing line.

That amounts to about $500 to make sure an artwork that is essentially priceless isn’t deteriorating too quickly or substantially—compared to say, $100,000 every year to water your Jeff Koons flower puppy. It’s welcome proof that not all improvised balloon contraptions sent into mountain state skies are doomed to end in mock disaster and controversy (although Eppich said that a few balloons did pop in the summer heat).