Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West (Culture Trails: Adventures in Travel)

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9780226348452: Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West (Culture Trails: Adventures in Travel)

Erin Hogan hit the road in her Volkswagen Jetta and headed west from Chicago in search of the monuments of American land art: a salty coil of rocks, four hundred stainless steel poles, a gash in a mesa, four concrete tubes, and military sheds filled with cubes. Her journey took her through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It also took her through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion. Spiral Jetta is a chronicle of this journey.

A lapsed art historian and devoted urbanite, Hogan initially sought firsthand experience of the monumental earthworks of the 1970s and the 1980s—Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, and the contemporary art mecca of Marfa, Texas. Armed with spotty directions, no compass, and less-than-desert-appropriate clothing, she found most of what she was looking for and then some.

“I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out . . . or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn’t magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing.”—Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times Book Review

“The reader emerges enlightened and even delighted. . . . Casually scrutinizing the artistic works . . . while gamely playing up her fish-out-of-water status, Hogan delivers an ingeniously engaging travelogue-cum-art history.”—Atlantic

“Smart and unexpectedly hilarious.”—Kevin Nance, Chicago Sun-Times

“One of the funniest and most entertaining road trips to be published in quite some time.”—June Sawyers, Chicago Tribune

“Hogan ruminates on how the work affects our sense of time, space, size, and scale. She is at her best when she reexamines the precepts of modernism in the changing light of New Mexico, and shows how the human body is meant to be a participant in these grand constructions.”—New Yorker

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About the Author:

Erin Hogan is director of public affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Review:

“I was never quite sure what Hogan was looking for when she set out . . . or indeed whether she found it. But I loved the ride. In Spiral Jetta, an unashamedly honest, slyly uproarious, ever-probing book, art doesn’t magically have the power to change lives, but it can, perhaps no less powerfully, change ways of seeing.” (Tom Vanderbilt New York Times)

“The title’s overly coy allusion to Robert Smithson’s masterpiece doesn’t detract from a smart and winning book. Hogan, the public-affairs director at the Art Institute of Chicago, does her best to arrange an unhappy marriage—a land-art tour ‘through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas’ and ‘through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion’—but the reader emerges enlightened and even delighted. After all, making critical theory fun is quite a feat. Casually scrutinizing the artistic works Sun Tunnels, Double Negative, Roden Crater, and Lightning Field while gamely playing up her fish-out-of-water status, Hogan delivers an ingeniously engaging travelogue-cum-art history.”

(Atlantic)

“Across this marvelously unexpected little road saga, the stud muffin cowboys of late twentieth century American art at long last meet their sly gamine match.  Pretty much doing for Land Art what Geoff Dyer did for D. H. Lawrence, Ms. Hogan, an urban fish decidedly out of water, flopping about in the high desert parch, makes for marvelously endearing company.  An at times harrowingly (albeit comically) unreliable navigator (who doesn't bring a compass along on solo treks across such vast empty expanses?), Hogan nevertheless then manages to deploy an expertly modulated prose, tracking the heaviest of subjects with the lightest of touches, melding gravitas and whimsy (vodka and tonic), in a narrative that in the end, like the art it surveys, manages to be about what it is to be an individual alone—pinprick-contingent, achingly vulnerable, gobsmacked enthralled—in the face of all that is.” (Lawrence Weschler)

“Blending a humorous travelogue and serious musings, in Spiral Jetta she winds her car and the reader through the complexities of 1970s earthworks and contemporary aesthetics via a varied landscape of people, places, and art. . .  She is great at keeping the reader’s attention: two pages of art philosophy; ten pages of fun.”

(Mary Parrish Science)

"[An] engaging and sometimes hilarious account of a 'recovering art historian' facing an early midlife crisis. . . . Hogan eloquently discusses the sublime and the intimate . . . and she makes us feel as if we're right down in the trench with her." (Marc Vincent Plain Dealer)

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