Steve Baker, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A New York City-based art foundation is seeking a new lease on the 10-acre parcel home to the iconic earth sculpture, the Spiral Jetty.
The Dia Art Foundation's 20-year lease on the Jetty site expired in February, Utah state land officials said.
The Jetty is a 1,500-foot long, 15-foot wide black basalt rock formation that juts out in a counterclockwise spiral into the salt-laden waters of the Great Salt Lake about 90 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Many consider the Jetty, which in some years becomes submerged in water, one of the most significant sculptures in American art.
The Jetty was built by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 and donated in 1999 to Dia for caretaking by the artist's estate.
The foundation is a multidisciplinary contemporary art organization with multiple gallery sites and a permanent collection that includes the works of prominent artists from the 1970s and 1980s, including Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin and Andy Warhol. The Jetty is one of several offsite installations managed by the foundation.
Ownership and management of the Jetty parcel — actually 10 acres of lake bed — reverted to the state upon the expiration of the lease, Utah's Division of Fire, Forestry and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said.
The expiration of the Jetty lease appears to have surprised Dia officials, who say maintaining the unique piece of earth-art is "central" to its mission and purpose.
In a statement posted on Dia's website, the foundation says it had promptly paid its annual $250 lease fees, including an invoice sent in February 2011. But after making the payment, Dia officials say Utah determined the invoice had been sent in error because the lease had expired.
Both Dia and state officials say they're now in discussions to resolve the matter, but it's not clear when division officials will make a decision.
Sovereign state lands policies allow anyone to seek a lease and Dia wouldn't necessarily have any advantage over other lease bidders. To date, however, no other organization or individual has sought the Jetty lease, Curry said.
"But we have to go through our process to consider whether this is something that needs to be offered up on a competitive basis," Curry said. "We have to manage all state lands the same."
Although the Jetty lease contained no provision for an automatic renewal at the end of its 20-year term, it's not clear how it expired without a negotiated plan for the future. Last year, however, the division's former Sovereign Lands coordinator Dave Grierson, who would have negotiated leases, died. That may have left a gap, and division staff is now combing through Grierson's emails to look for his communications with the foundation, Curry said.
"There was no intent to pull the rug out from under" Dia, Curry said. "I think it was maybe just an oversight."
The terms of a new lease, including its length and the amount of the annual fee, will be determined as part of the review process, he said, adding that Dia's lease application doesn't propose any changes to the site, which is undeveloped except for the massive rock formation itself.
State official have no data on the number of the people who annually visit the Jetty, and they charge no fee.
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