Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque
Project for Laura Gitlen Gallery, New York City.
“Now this shows you the roofless motif which I think is very, very handsome. . . .This is really the old hotel and you can see that instead of just tearing it down at once they tear it down partially so that you are not deprived of the wreckage situation. That’s very satisfying actually to me: it’s not often that you see buildings being both ripped down and built up at the same time. . . .”
In three acts of ventriloquism, chaos gives way to formalism. An exhibition of new work by Harrell Fletcher, Corin Hewitt, and Elizabeth McAlpine, Roofless Motifs includes performance, drawings, photographs and video where the spontaneity of performance and the entropic forces of nature push the limits of form. At the same time, the insistence of structuralism and our reliance on language further defines the parameters of each artist’s work.
In 1972, Robert Smithson delivered a slide lecture to the architecture students at the University of Utah on Hotel Palenque, a partially demolished construction project he came across in Mexico. Offhand, and at times droll in its delivery, Smithson recounted the beauty and intrigue of the waterless pools, rebar jutting out of demolished concrete walls, and roofless buildings. Unclear if the lecture mocked academia and its fetishization of these sites or was a genuine recount of his visit, the notorious lecture has become legendary in Smithson’s life and work.
Harrell Fletcher’s video, Robert Smithson: The Hotel Palenque, covers Smithson’s original lecture, delivering its content in a drier and more ambiguous tone. Questioning the distribution of knowledge and its interpretation, Fletcher’s work resists traditional hierarchies, opening up dialogues between and across political structures. The bootlegged and casual nature of his work also suggests an irreverence toward the preciousness of the art world that galvanizes and instantiates the original.