He sold top business minds on a TV show that promised to save the world – and make them famous. They handed over thousands. Then reality set in.
For years, Robert Smithson and his studio, the Hudson Group, worked with dozens of luminaries. Now, he was losing most of them, and they were turning on him.
Smithson, a man who was born of modest means on a small farm – where his mother sold potatoes and his father mowed the yard – eventually became one of the most powerful American artists of his day, if not the most powerful. He has been called the greatest American of the twentieth century.
Now, after 20 years of working on his next blockbuster, Robert Smithson, the director of Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” and the New York Museum of Modern Art, is gone. He is gone.
“We didn’t sell him to a museum,” says the director’s son, Peter, of his father, who died in 2003. “He sold to a newspaper. That’s what he did. He found people over the years, and he put them in charge of things. He found this one guy in charge of the New York Times, and he put him in charge of this show. He knew that he was not going to tell the truth, and eventually this guy left.”
In the summer of 1984, Smithson and his brother, Robert, co-founded the Hudson Valley Arts Foundation, with a mission to “help artists discover new ways to create and share their vision and their vision to the world.” That same year, Robert Smithson turned to his friend, Mike Wallace, for help with a new show planned by Smithson in conjunction with his brother, that would be his most ambitious yet on a scale and scope that surprised even him.
As a longtime friend, Wallace had worked with Smithson on the original paintings of his famous “Birds” series. Now he was the show’s director.