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Utah Moves to Make “Spiral Jetty” and Indigenous Rock Art Official State Artworks [UPDATED]

If Governor Gary Herbert signs the two bills passed by the state legislature, Utah would become the first state to establish official works of art.

Robert Smithson, “Spiral Jetty” (1970) (photo by Kemy Lin/Hyperallergic)

Utah’s House and Senate have voted to designate Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” and ancient rock art as official state works of art. The designations come in two separate bills, HB211 and SB171, both of which passed easily in the state legislature but have yet to go to Governor Gary Herbert, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

HB211, which the Senate vote 23-3 to approve, names Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” as Utah’s state work of land art. The artist created the massive coil of basalt rocks jutting into the Great Salt Lake in 1970; today, it’s one of the most famous earthworks in the world. It’s also facing a landlocked future due to human activity that’s causing the Great Salt Lake to dry up, as Hyperallergic reported last month.

“We were thrilled to hear that Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ will become Utah’s State Work of Land Art,” Kelly Kivland, associate curator at Dia Art Foundation, which owns “Spiral Jetty,” told Hyperallergic. “As the owner and steward of this extraordinary sculpture, we thank Rep. Becky Edwards and the State of Utah for appreciating the importance and legacy of ‘Spiral Jetty.’

Edwards, who introduced HB211, wrote to Hyperallergic: “I was thrilled that both HB 211 and SB 171 passed this session. This is a big win for arts in our state … Contemporary and prehistoric art complement each other and enrich the cultural understanding of our past and a vision for our future.”

Rock art in the Great Gallery, Canyonlands National Park, Utah (photo by John Fowler/Wikipedia)

SB171, meanwhile, passed the House by a vote of 57-12; it names “Native American rock art” as Utah’s state works of art. Utah is home to many pictographs and petroglyphs: in Nine Mile Canyon alone, there are roughly 1,000 such sites, and Horseshoe Canyon, in its earlier days as Barrier Canyon, gave its name to the well-known Barrier Canyon Style of rock art. Rep. Christine F. Watkins, who sponsored the bill in the House, called Utah “one of the most important rock art theaters in the Western hemisphere.”

Both bills add their respective art designations to a long, at times curious list of Utah’s state symbols. According to the text, Utah’s “state cooking pot” is the dutch oven; its state firearm is the “John M. Browning designed M1911 automatic pistol”; its state fossil is the Allosaurus; and its state winter sports are skiing and snowboarding, among many others. Rep. Edwards told Hyperallergic that she expects Gov. Herbert to sign both bills by the deadline of May 15, with a possible special ceremonial signing for the “Spiral Jetty” bill afterwards. If and when the bills become law, Utah will be the first state in the country to establish official works of art.

This story was updated with comment from Rep. Becky Edwards on March 16 at 2:30pm.

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