Michael Heizer’s Landscape (and other) Art
Thursday, 24th October 2013 by Alex Turnbull
Michael Heizer is a contemporary artist known for creating landscape art on a massive scale in isolated locations. His largest work, and one of the largest sculptures ever created, is City – an immense project which he has been working on for more than 40 years, but which remains closed to the public. Thanks to a recent update to Google satellite imagery, we’re now able to take an aerial tour of this mysterious location as the project draws near to completion.
The various complexes, built on remote property owned by Heizer in Nevada, measure 2km long and 400m wide (1¼ x ¼ miles), with some structures reaching 25m (80′) in height. Several foundations for the arts support Heizer’s work on City, with total construction cost estimated to exceed $25 million by the time it is completed.
Google’s latest imagery revealed many of the structures for the first time, some of which now have names – like Complex 1 and Complex 3 (visible lower-right and top respectively), which are huge structures made of earth, rock, concrete and metal.
We can see some of the large industrial machinery used on the site, as well as some metal structures which may be simply ornamental, or perhaps they could be structural elements to allow for the creation of a dome.
Towards the most north-western end of the site is an element titled 45º, 90º, 180º – a name Heizer has used in other artworks. It apparently takes on very different forms when viewed from different perspectives.
Although the project is shrouded in mystery, it’s believed to be inspired by ancient civilisations. This New York Times article has the most detail about the project (and Heizer’s background and somewhat eccentric viewpoints), although it is from 8 years ago.
Even though Google’s imagery is new, Bing has much clearer versions – here are two of the same locations shown above. With clearer imagery and better light conditions you can get a much better sense of the contours of the the site.
In 1969, before starting work on City, Heizer created another huge earthworks art project called Double Negative. This consists of a deep trench dug either side of a canyon, also in Nevada. The materials from the trench were dumped into the canyon. Although it is visible on satellite images, this newspaper article gives a much better sense of what it looks like.
Even before this, Heizer had created a number of large-scale works in remote areas of Nevada, working with coloured dyes and digging geometric shapes in dry lake beds. Most of these are no longer visible as nature has reclaimed the sites.
Less isolated, and more recently – in the mid-1980s – Heizer created five earthwork sculptures named Effigy Tumuli in Buffalo Rock State Park in Illinois. Inspired by native American mound sculptures, the pieces are hundreds of metres long and include a catfish, a frog, a snake, a turtle and a water strider.
Although it seems unlikely that we will ever see Street View of these isolated or large-scale works, we are able to see close up imagery of a number of Heizer’s smaller-scale projects in various cities. The most recent installation is Levitated Mass, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This work consists of a 340-ton boulder 6m (21ft) across, resting atop a trench which visitors can walk under. The only imagery this new work can currently be seen on is Bing’s Streetside.
Originally conceived in 1969, an earlier attempt to move a boulder to the location was abandoned when the crane broke. Heizer identified a suitable rock in 2005, but it took until 2012 to be able to secure the millions of dollars needed to complete the installation. This YouTube video is a trailer for a recently-released film about the project, including the rock’s 11-day 90km (56 mile) journey from the quarry to the museum.
Other examples of urban installations by Michael Heizer:
In a park in Seattle, Washington, a series of large granite boulders and concrete forms make up a piece named Adjacent, Against, Upon.
And on Madison Avenue in New York a large grooved rock – also called Levitated Mass – appears to float on water in what is apparently a popular place for people to sit and hang out.