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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.