Collection - Robert Smithson collection

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Robert Smithson collection

General material designation

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of the collection.

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Edition area

Edition statement

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Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

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Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1969 - 1973 (Collection)
    Wheeler, Dennis
  • 1951-1977, 2001-2007 (Creation)
    Smithson, Robert

Physical description area

Physical description

23 cm of textual records
ca. 43 photographs
ca. 38 negatives

Publisher's series area

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert Smithson is one of the canonical figures in 20th century art. He was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1938 and died in a plane crash near Amarillo, Texas in 1973. Smithson was an early proponent of earthworks or land art and his practice involved drawings, projects and proposals, sculpture, films and critical writings. He has had an extensive exhibition history beginning in 1959 and which continues to present day.

Dennis Wheeler, writer and filmmaker, was born in Vancouver in 1948. He studied art history and English at the University of British Columbia and became an integral part of the Vancouver art community during the late 1960s. His writing and criticism was published in <em>artscanada, Grape</em>, and <em>The Georgia Straight</em>. In 1975 he directed the film <em>Potlatch: A Strict Law Bids Us Dance</em> for the U’mista Cultural Centre. In 1976 he collaborated with Nancy Holt on the video Revolve. Wheeler died of leukemia in 1977.

The Robert Smithson Collection of materials was amassed by Denis Wheeler throughout their friendship.

Wheeler met Smithson in Vancouver in 1969, when Smithson first travelled to the city to investigate possibilities for undertaking outdoor artworks. Over the following months, Wheeler engaged in extended discussions with Smithson regarding his proposal for the <em>Island of Broken Glass</em> (which was to have been undertaken on an island in the Strait of Georgia) and the broader implications of his practice. Wheeler was also present at the installation of Smithson’s <em>Glass Strata with Mulch and Soil</em> and at the <em>Glue Pour</em> Smithson undertook for the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition <em>955,000</em> in January of 1970. At Smithson’s request, Wheeler photographed the <em>Glue Pour</em> over a number of days with the intent (unrealized) to produce another version of the work. Wheeler also recorded several interviews with Smithson, which have subsequently been published, and published articles on Smithson’s work. Their association continued until Smithson’s untimely death in 1973. Wheeler also maintained a friendship with Smithson’s widow, Nancy Holt, until his own death in 1977.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The material in the Robert Smithson Collection consists of items collected by the late Vancouver writer and filmmaker Dennis Wheeler. All the material is related to Wheeler’s association with the noted American artist Robert Smithson. Materials in the collection include: articles, correspondence, journals, magazines, catalogues, newspaper clippings, photographs, posters, notes, slides, and negatives.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Susan Penner. Please use the credit line “Gift of Susan M. Penner” for exhibition labels, publications and promotional materials.


The collection is comprised of eight series. The files have been arranged by record series as the records came to the art gallery with no evident filing system or internal arrangement.
The collection consists of eight series:

Biographical Information & Interviews 1969

Correspondence 1970, 1975

Published Materials 1951-1977
Miscellaneous 19??.

Posters 19??.
Notes 1969-1970
Images 1967-1969
Vancouver Art Gallery 2001-2007.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Access to the Archives of the Vancouver Art Gallery is at the discretion of the Librarian/Archivist.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

A list detailing the box and serial numbers, as well as the titles and dates of all folders in the collection is available in the appendix. Further notation indicates the record forms contained in the folders.

Associated materials

Related materials


No further accruals expected

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Rules for Archival Description



Level of detail


Dates of creation, revision and deletion

June 2009

Language of description

  • English

Script of description


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