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Mirrors and Shelly Sand

Robert Smithson American

Not on view

Loosely defined as decay, but more precisely understood as energy drain, entropy plays a key role in Smithson’s work. Mirrors and Shelly Sand both illustrates and performs the phenomenon of entropy, especially the loss of stability that occurs as physical systems degrade. A loose, amorphous pile of sand—a by-product of erosion—rests directly on the floor. Even in the museum, Smithson’s sand remains prone to loss and disintegration, forever struggling to retain its shape and its mass. A different kind of entropy is at play in the double-sided mirrors that divide the mound at regular intervals. Thanks to their reflectivity, the mirrors confound perception by creating optical illusions and visual conundrums. For this reason, our experience of the work is at odds with reality: what we see is not necessarily what exists.

Mirrors and Shelly Sand, Robert Smithson (American, Passaic, New Jersey 1938–1973 Amarillo, Texas), Fifty 12-inch x 48-inch mirrors, back to back; beach sand with shells or pebbles, approximately 28 feet long

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