Since 1972, Michael Heizer has been working on his magnum opus “City,” a monumental complex of structures in the Nevada desert that measures a mile and a half by a quarter mile. Composed of concrete and compacted earth, the work’s minimalist, geometric forms share an affinity with sacred pre-Columbian architecture. After more than 40 years, and $25 million, construction is nearing completion, after which the site will be open to the public. Before that happens, however, the future of the land around the site, known as Basin and Range, must be secured.
Although Heizer owns (and lives on) the land on which the work sits, the surrounding area has been threatened in the past by various proposals including a nuclear waste rail line, a missile site, and development as an oil and gas field. Conservation Lands Foundation has been campaigning to protect this land from such development, citing the area’s unique wildlife, geological features, and Native American archaeological importance, in addition to Heizer’s “City.” Last week, a group of about 24 museums including LACMA, MOMA, the Dia Foundation, the Walker Center and others, joined the campaign to raise awareness through blog posts, by directing people to an online petition to show their support, and promoting it on twitter with the hashtag #protectCITY.
Last fall, Sen. Harry Reid proposed the Garden Valley Withdrawal Act, which would have protected the area from mining, but the measure failed to pass. An executive action from the president would most likely be needed now to safeguard the 800,000 acres from development, which would make it the largest single conservation area created by Obama, according to LACMA Director of Executive Communications Scott Tennent.
Despite being known for remote desert works, Heizer has a strong connection to Los Angeles. His “Levitated Mass” (2012), the 340-ton boulder that sits above a walkway on LACMA’s campus is one of the museum’s major attractions. 100,000 people came out to view its 10-day journey from quarry to installation at the museum. “Double Negative” (1969), Heizer’s 1500-foot long gash that straddles a canyon in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas, is in the collection of the LA MoCA. The artist also has ties to Texas, where his “45 90 180″ (1984) resides on the campus of Rice University in Houston. (We picked this as one of the Six Public Sculptures in Texas to See Before You Die last year.)
Ultimately, the campaign cannot aim to “save” Heizer’s artwork; it is not threatened directly since it is on private land. What is at stake – as is the case with all land art – is the connection of the artwork to the surrounding landscape, not to mention accessibility of the work. To this end, Heizer said in the past that he would bulldoze the entire site if a proposed nuclear waste railway came to fruition. “The theory is that art and land are the things that have the greatest value and here you have both art and land,” Heizer remarks on the campaign’s website. “If either is excusable then neither is worth really very much.”
also by Matt Stromberg
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