City in the desert

Since 1972, one of the most colossal works of art ever sculpted has been rising from the sands in Lincoln County, Nevada. It is not yet complete.

Encompassing an area more than a mile long and a quarter mile wide, City is the work of dozens of people—artists, artisans, construction workers. But it is the brainchild of one man, pioneer of the ‘land art’ movement,¬†sculptor Michael Heizer.

Heizer is perhaps best known for his 2012 installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Levitated Mass. This 340-ton suspended boulder is now a permanent fixture on Wilshire Boulevard, but its 11-day, 106-mile journey from the quarry to LA in February 2012 became in its own right a boisterously celebrated, if unintended, bit of performance art. (That trek, as well as the installation’s eventual completion, is marvelously documented in Doug Pray’s 2013 film, Levitated Mass.)

No less permanent, then, is City. Hewn from native stone, augmented with earth and concrete, it features plazas, complexes, and Mayan-inspired structures soaring up to six storeys in height. Like the Mesoamerican temples it echoes, it is being created to last. “I’m building this work for later,” Heizer says.

But for all his efforts (it is located on land Heizer owns, and to date he very rarely allows visitors) City has always existed on the cusp of danger. Numerous government projects, including the ill-fated Yucca Mountain repository (a now-cancelled project to store spent nuclear fuel rods) have threatened to site rail spurs, roadways, and electrical transmission lines near or even through the City complex. Heizer was said to have threatened to bury the artwork in the sands should any of those plans come to fruition.

That danger has passed. On July 10th, under authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Obama designated a 704,000-acre swathe of the New Mexico wilderness as the Basin and Range National Monument. This new national monument includes 4,000-year-old petroglyphs, geologically significant basins and mountain ranges…and Michael Heizer’s City.

City, like society and culture, like progress and evolution, is incomplete. Unlike those things, thankfully, it is now protected.

About editor, facilitator, decider

Doesn't know much about culture, but knows when it's going to hell in a handbasket.
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