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The Spiral Jetty Lease

Disputes often arise as to title of artwork, but title to the land on which the artwork sits rarely comes into play.

In 1970, Robert Smithson created the “Spiral Jetty”, which extends 460 meters into the Great Salt Lake of Utah. The Utah Department of Natural Resources administers a lease for this work, which sits atop state property. In 1999, The Estate of Robert Smithson donated the work to the Dia Art Foundation, also shifting obligations regarding the lease with the Department of Natural Resources. Dia must pay an annual fee of $250.00 to maintain its rights over the work.

At the beginning of June, it was revealed that Dia had failed to pay the annual fee on the lease, and had also failed to respond to a notice that the 20-year lease on the lake bed had run out. Speculation arose that ownership reverted to the State of Utah.

Must the lease be extended? Could Utah pursue plans to drill for oil, potentially destroying the artwork? Would Dia maintain rights over the work as an “improvement” on the land, as per the terms of the lease?

Dia posted an announcement on its website that the Foundation and the Government are working together to rectify the situation. “Maintaining Spiral Jetty is central to Dia’s mission and purpose, and to the history of American art. Both Dia and the Department recognize the immense value and importance of this unique artwork at a local, national, and international level and will continue to work together to ensure its long-term preservation.”