A gigantic work of art is born: Michael Heizer’s city opens in the brutal Nevada desert after 50 years | Sculpture

The American artist Michael Heizer has never articulated his intention for it towna monumental, sprawling complex of mounds, geoglyphs and concrete pyramids located in the brutally hot and inaccessible high desert of Nevada, about three hours northwest of Las Vegas.

But after a 50-year wait, this week visitors will finally have the chance to begin forming their own interpretations of the 77-year-old artist’s land work. Sculpture is not ritualistic and may not be fully understandable or necessarily useful. His presence alone may be his greatest strength.

“I remember walking on the ground with Michael in 1973. [There was] nothing but me, Michael, some survey markers and a lot of wind,” says Barbara Heizer, the artist’s ex-wife, who spent 17 years in Nevada from 1974.

She recalls that he planned the whole project. “But maybe he didn’t think it would last this long. When you jump off a cliff like this, and you don’t have financial support, it’s not easy. But he always wanted to do it.”

Part of Michael Heizer’s city. Photography: Ben Blackwell

townwhich is 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide, joins a series of masterpieces of land art that includes works by Robert Smithson Spiral gate in Utah, Walter De Maria’s Field of Lightning in New Mexico and James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona – each created by a loose group of artists who set out in the late 1960s to liberate art from the confines of the gallery.

For a previous large-scale project, Double Negative, from 1969, Heizer cut a 1,500-foot-long, 50-foot-deep, and 30-foot-wide trench on the facing slopes of Mormon Mesa in Nevada, which required blasting and excavating 240,000 tons of rock. “There is nothing there,” the artist once said, “yet it is still a sculpture.”

Since then, he has completed many projects, including Levitated Massa large-scale 2012 sculpture that drew crowds to line bridges and freeway service roads in LA as a 340-ton stone was moved from East Los Angeles to the Los Angeles County Museum, proving that the move of giant stones is also contemporary. as a prehistoric preoccupation.

Heizer in cowboy hat with large rock slab
American artist Michael Heizer is known for his large-scale works. Photo: Isaac Brekken/New York Times/Redux/Eyevine

Heizer’s father was an archaeological anthropologist. Born in Berkeley, California, the artist traveled to Peru and Mexico as a teenager, and later to Egypt. “I think a lot was being prepared for him in terms of his work then,” says Barbara Heizer. “He always wanted to build town after Double Negative. That was the plan from day one. It is a person’s focus and perspective.”

town found a supporter in the late U.S. Senator Harry Reid, who was said to be fascinated by the project and Heizer’s embrace of the landscape. Reid helped stop proposals for a rail line to transport nuclear waste to a proposed storage facility under nearby Yucca Mountain.

The surrounding landscape was protected by the Obama administration and town located within the 704,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument, which also contains Native American sacred and cultural sites dating back 13,000 years. In defense of the land, President Barack Obama noted that Heizer’s project is “one of the most ambitious examples of the uniquely American land art movement.”

View of a part of the city.
View of a part of the city. Photo: Joe Rome

Forward town was completed, art critic Dave Hickey wrote: “The passages, domes and pits within the excavation are elegantly restrained in long, quiet Sumerian curves. They restore our sense of distance and scale, so the complexity of town appears as a gracious intervention in the wilderness … composed and complete.”

It is not necessary to know Heizer’s intentions for the sculpture. Smithson, the undecided philosopher of the land art group, expressed an interest in redefining disused mines and tailings, and activating the sculptural side of human activity.

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“It’s a big part of nature, of the real world, in an art world that’s so much about fantasy, the mind, the irrational, dreams and concepts,” says artist and critic Walter Robinson.

“I often think when I see one of these works of art, ‘wow, what a piece of work.’ It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of the artist’s ambition.”

For some of the earth artists, the material was the earth itself, hence the term “Earth Art” and they proclaimed to recreate art from scratch. In turn, they influenced a generation of artists, including – in Britain – Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, who pursued the creation of sculptures that were part of the fabric of the earth, but often made their projects more at odds with the natural world.

The earth art movement was created at a time when the ecological movement in the US was taking shape. By creating works that could not be exchanged and required engagement with elements of the environment, earth artists invited the viewer to challenge their perceptions of art.

Visitors to town the sculpture will be limited to six per day, and Heizer has expressed concern that too many could damage the work.

But the conclusion of town it has not satisfied everyone. Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis and history at Pomona College, California, acknowledges Heizer’s dedication, but questions “land artists’ attempt to tear the land apart because they thought they could do it better. This runs counter to an environmental culture that argues that the integrity of places is the integrity of places and beautiful in itself.”

However, such arguments can only detract little, if at all, from Heizer’s achievement. considers Robinson town “mythical and atavistic”.

“It’s Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to have it roll back,” he says. “It has to be one of the grandest, most ambitious endeavors an individual artist has ever undertaken.”

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