Still from Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971-2011)
Weekend Event

Open Weekends for Robert Smithson’s Broken Circle/Spiral Hill

Holt/Smithson Foundation and Land Art Contemporary in close cooperation with the landowners and Centrum Beeldende Kunst Emmen are delighted to announce a series of Open Weekends between July and October 2021 for Robert Smithson’s earthwork Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971). Located near the City of Emmen in the province of Drenthe in The Netherlands, this is his only extant earthwork outside of the United States. Alongside the Open Weekends, a series of talks, screenings, and presentations organized with Dutch partners will take place this year.

Commissioned for the 1971 edition of the recurring outdoor exhibition Sonsbeek, Smithson’s earthwork is sited in a former sand-mine, cut into the side of a terminal moraine. It is an artwork of two parts. Broken Circle is a semi-circular jetty built into a quarry lake filled with reflecting green water. Spiral Hill rises into a cone-shaped hill beside the lake; from the top, via a spiraling path, the quarry and Broken Circle can be seen from above. At the center is an immovable huge boulder deposited by ancient glacial movements. 

Smithson described this as “a major piece” and it sparked his interest in working with industry and post-industrial landscape to make art “a necessary part of their reclamation projects.” The geological and industrial history of the Drenthe region drew Smithson to Emmen. He was fascinated by the constructed landscape of The Netherlands. Smithson was interested in “landscapes that suggest prehistory. As an artist it is sort of interesting to take on the persona of a geological agent where man actually becomes part of that process rather than overcoming it.” Smithson was committed to working with landscapes scarred by industry, thinking through future uses for exhausted landscapes. 

Sited on private land, the future of Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is uncertain. It is an artwork with a rich history, with a deep resonance for the present, and with an unknown future. Working with the current landowners and Dutch partners Land Art Contemporary, Holt/Smithson Foundation’s ambition is to build a sustainable future for the artwork, to enable it to inspire future generations.

Smithson is known to have donated the artwork to the people of The Netherlands, however the specifics of how the work should be cared for and who should take responsibility for the land on which it sits is unknown. Since 1971, the generosity of the sand mine owners has enabled Broken Circle/Spiral Hill to be visited and appreciated by local, national, and international visitors for five decades. In 2021 the wish is to secure the future of this artwork and to find support to bring the land into public ownership.


About the Open Weekends
Open Weekends for Robert Smithson’s Broken Circle/Spiral Hill take place on July 31 - August 1st; August 7 - 8; August 14 - 15; August 28-29; September 4 - 5, September 18-19, October 2 - 3, October 23 - 24. During these visits the public will be guided by an audio tour. The film Breaking Ground, realized by Nancy Holt for the fortieth anniversary of the work, will be screened at the site. Booking is essential to manage safe visits during COVID-19.

Booking details are available from June 19 via:

About our Supporters
The 2021 Broken Circle/Spiral program is generously supported by Municipality of Emmen, Province of Drenthe, and Prins Bernhard Culture Fund. 

About Holt/Smithson Foundation
In 2014, Nancy Holt willed Holt/Smithson Foundation into being. Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and Robert Smithson (1938-1973) transformed the world of art and ideas. Holt/Smithson Foundation develops their distinctive creative legacies. Collaborating with artists, writers, thinkers, and institutions, Holt/Smithson Foundation realizes exhibitions, publishes books, initiates artist commissions, programs educational events, encourages research, and develops collections globally from its headquarters in New Mexico.

About Land Art Contemporary
Land Art Contemporary (LAC) Foundation was established in 2011 as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Broken Circle/Spiral Hill. LAC’s program builds on Smithson's artistic practice and philosophy. In his artworks and texts, he reflects on the relationship between humans and planet, between ecology and economy, subjects that are even more topical today than in his time. Against the background of this philosophy, LAC focuses on research into and the development of contemporary 'land art' projects in Drenthe and beyond. LAC is characterized by the combination of experience in guiding processes and substantive knowledge of land art. 

About Robert Smithson
Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Robert Smithson (2 January 1938 – 20 July 1973) spent his formative years in New Jersey. He is best known for his earthworks Spiral Jetty (1970), Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971) and Amarillo Ramp (1973). Prior to these earthworks Smithson created performative entropic land works, such as the ephemeral sculptures Asphalt Rundown (1969, Rome), Glue Pour (1969, Vancouver), Concrete Pour (1969, Chicago) and Partially Buried Woodshed (1970, Kent State), which speak poignantly to issues of time and the human condition.

Smithson’s writings on art, western culture, graphic texts, and interviews, are published in The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt (1979, New York University Press, with an expanded version edited by Jack Flam published in 1998). His works are in numerous museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Dia Art Foundation, Museum of Modern Art New York, National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Image: Still from Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971-2011). © Holt/Smithson Foundation 

31 July - 24 October 2021

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