Drilling plans spur art protest

Artist Nancy Holt, the widow of artist Robert Smithson, is encouraging others in the arts world to protest plans for exploratory oil drilling in Utah’s Great Salt Lake that may have an impact on her late husband’s 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide environmental artwork “Spiral Jetty.”

The giant “earthwork,” built in 1970 of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, near Rozel Point, is considered perhaps Smithson’s most important work. Subject to the rise and fall of the lake water level, the work was submerged for three decades, re-emerging in 1999.

After being notified Monday of the drilling plan by Lynn DeFreitas, director of the group Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Holt blasted a group e-mail to artistic colleagues urging them to send letters of protest “to save the beautiful, natural environment around the Spiral Jetty.”

In an interview Wednesday, DeFreitas said that the proposed drilling by Pearl Montana Exploration and Production would not call for drilling directly into the artwork but offshore equipment could cause noise and visual impairment in a relatively pristine area.


John Harja, director of the governor’s public lands office for the State of Utah, confirmed Wednesday that his office had received about 160 e-mails from all over the world, mostly from artists or art facilities, protesting the drilling plans. He said the office had extended its deadline for public comment on the proposal to Feb. 13 and that Pearl Montana Exploration and Production would be taking all comments under advisement.