Robert Smithson conceived and executed this piece while he was staying at Kent State University for a week as a visiting artist in January, 1970. It was too cold for the 'mud pour' work he had expected to perform, so this substitute was hastily developed by Smithson and some of the students. Intended as an illustration of entropy, dirt was dumped on an empty shed by a backhoe until the center beam of the wood and stucco structure cracked. Before he left the campus, the piece was officially transferred to the University and valued at $10,000, and Smithson said that he expected the piece to just "go back to the land." But many unforeseen events conspired to alter the piece physically and contextually. After Smithson's death in 1973, his widow, Nancy Holt, lobbied to have the shed's remains preserved, but in 1975 it was partially burned by arsonists. Despite their obligations to preserve the piece, University officials considered the remains an eyesore, and over the next decade grounds keepers removed all of the pieces that fell to the ground. By 1984, all that was left was the mound itself (pictured above) and some portions of the foundation. A few months after the piece was "built" the famous Kent State shootings occurred (where students protesting the Vietnam War were killed by National Guardsmen), and soon afterwards someone commemorated the event by painting "May 4 Kent 70" on the woodshed. The lettering, visible from the road and remaining on the shed for years, linked the shed and the "breaking point" of the beam, to the cultural shift that many consider the Kent State shootings to represent. Today the remains are hidden in a grove of trees, most of which were planted some time ago to obscure the ruin. The grove is surrounded by the new Liquid Crystal Materials Science building, a football field, and a parking lot.
Partially Buried Woodshed, Ohio