Artist Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ in the Nevada desert to open after 50 years

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Artist Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ in the Nevada desert to open after 50 years

Written by Benjamin Sutton

This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.

“City,” a vast complex of outdoor structures and landmasses that land artist Michael Heizer began building in the Nevada desert in 1970, will finally begin welcoming public visitors next month. The site’s opening on September 2, more than 50 years after work began at the site, marks the fulfillment of Heizer’s most ambitious and career-defining project.

“City” has been described as possibly the largest contemporary work of art on the planet, stretching more than a mile long and half a mile wide, evoking the scale of ancient sites such as Native American mounds, Mesoamerican metropolises and Egyptian sacred complexes. It is located in the remote Basin and Range National Monument in central-eastern Nevada, within the ancestral lands of the Nuuwu (Southern Paiute) and Newe (Western Shoshoni), about 160 miles north of Las Vegas.

For the first year of public accessibility, only a limited number of visitors will be allowed, with mandatory advanced registration.

“City” has been described as possibly the largest contemporary work of art in the world. Credit: Ben Blackwell

Initially financed by Heizer himself, construction of “City” eventually received the support of many influential collectors, institutions and dealers through the establishment in 1998 of the Triple Aught Foundation, which will manage and preserve the site for years to come. The foundation — whose board includes Heizer himself, Los Angeles County Museum of Art director and CEO Michael Govan, Museum of Modern Art director Glenn D. Lowry, collector and Glenstone co-founder Emily Wei Rales and Gagosian senior director Kara Vander Weg – – established an endowment for City with nearly $30 million in initial funding.

“Over the years I would sometimes compare Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ project to some of the most important ancient monuments and cities,” says Govan in a statement. “But now I only compare it to itself. It is a work of art that is aware of our primal impulses to build and organize space, but it incorporates our modernity, our awareness of and reflection on the subjectivity of our human experience of time and space as well as the many histories of civilizations we have built.”

Heizer's attempt to build "City" has a complicated history of five decades.  The artist, now 77 years old, believes it will continue for centuries.

Heizer’s effort to build “City” has a complicated history spanning five decades. The artist, now 77 years old, believes it will continue for centuries. Credit: Mary Converse

The road to building “City” has never been a simple one, involving forming enormous piles of soil, moving rocks and constructing enormous concrete structures. That process has at times been further complicated by external factors. In 2014 and 2015, a coalition of museum leaders and the late Nevada Senator Harry Reid fought for the area’s protection through a public petition and legislation, amid fears that the Basin and Range could be shrunk, potentially disrupting development nearby enabling the “City” site. introduced to Congress. And in 2017, as the Trump administration moved to open up previously protected lands to resource extraction, some worried that Heizer’s project would be one of the sites at risk.

Perhaps in response to such threats, Heizer envisions “City” as a project that will continue far beyond the lifespan of even the most precious and tough contemporary art.

“My good friend Richard Serra builds from military-grade steel,” he said in a 2016 New Yorker profile about the project, discussing the American sculptor’s large-scale site-specific works. “That stuff will all be melted down. Why do I think that? Incas, Olmecs, Aztecs — their best works of art were all looted, flattened, broken apart and their gold was melted down. When they came out here to f* *k my ‘City ‘-sculpture, they will realize it takes more energy to destroy it than it’s worth.”
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