Michael Heizer has spent 50 years completing his massive art installation, “City”, and now he’s opening it to the public.
Michael Heizer began building “City” in 1970, out in the desert of Nevada. It may be the largest contemporary artwork in the world, built on the scale of temple sites in Egypt or the Nazca lines in Peru. It is a mile and a half long, and half a mile wide, featuring different loci and features.
For almost 20 years, Heizer funded the work himself, while he slowly moved tons of earth and rock, built concrete forms, and terraformed his strip of desert. In 1998, he managed to catch enough attention to form the Triple Aught Foundation, an investment foundation which will manage and preserve the site after he’s gone. The foundation has an endowment of nearly $30 million, and a board of museum directors overseeing it.
“Over the years I would sometimes compare Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ project to some of the most important ancient monuments and cities,” board member Michael Govan said in a statement. “But now I only compare it to itself. It’s an artwork aware of our primal impulses to build and organize space, but it incorporates our modernity, our awareness of and reflection upon the subjectivity of our human experience of time and space as well as the many histories of civilizations we have built.”
“City” is monumental. Each feature required terraforming in some sense, moving mounds of earth and stone around, building concrete massifs. His choices of medium are very deliberate, with an eye to legacy.
“My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” Heizer said in a 2016 New Yorker interview about the project, discussing another American sculptor’s large-scale site-specific works. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs — their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to f**k my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”
Photo: Levitated Mass, an art installation on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Credit: Elliott Cowand Jr / Shutterstock.com