After 50 Years, An Enigmatic Artist’s “City” In The Nevada Desert Will Open

Michael Heizer started building “City,” a massive network of outdoor structures and landmasses, in the Nevada desert in 1970, and will finally start accepting visitors next month. The completion of Heizer’s most ambitious and career-defining project is marked by the site’s opening on September 2, more than 50 years after work at the site first began.

With dimensions of more than a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, “City” has been dubbed as quite possibly the world’s largest contemporary artwork. Its size is meant to evoke ancient sites like Native American mounds, Mesoamerican cities, and Egyptian devotional complexes. It is located about 160 miles north of Las Vegas in the isolated Basin and Range National Monument in central eastern Nevada, on the ancestral lands of the Nuwu (Southern Paiute) and Newe (Western Shoshoni).
Only a small number of visitors will be permitted during the first year of public accessibility, and advance registration is required.

Construction of “City,” which was initially financed by Heizer personally, later acquired backing from numerous notable collectors, institutions, and dealers thanks to the establishment in 1998 of the Triple Aught Foundation, which will look after and maintain the location for years to come. The foundation, whose board of directors includes Heizer, Michael Govan, director and chief executive of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, Emily Wei Rales, a collector and co-founder of Glenstone, and Kara Vander Weg, senior director of Gagosian, has established an endowment for City with an initial investment of almost $30 million.

Govan adds in a statement, “Over the years, I would occasionally compare Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ project to some of the most significant ancient monuments and cities. “Now, though, I simply hold it against itself. Although it integrates our modernity, awareness of, and contemplation on, the subjectivity of our human experience of time and space as well as the numerous histories of civilizations we have established, this artwork is cognizant of our basic instincts to build and arrange space.”

Govan adds in a statement, “Over the years, I would occasionally compare Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ project to some of the most significant ancient monuments and cities. “Now, though, I simply hold it against itself. Although it integrates our modernity, awareness of, and contemplation on, the subjectivity of our human experience of time and space as well as the numerous histories of civilizations we have established, this artwork is cognizant of our basic instincts to build and arrange space.”

The process of creating “City” required the sculpting of vast dirt mounds, the moving of boulders, and the construction of enormous concrete structures. This process has occasionally been made more difficult by outside forces. 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 introduced to Congress in response to concerns that Basin and Range might be reduced, potentially allowing for disruptive development close to the “City” site. And in 2017, some people were worried that Heizer’s project might be among the sites jeopardized as the Trump administration attempted to expose previously protected lands to resource development.

Heizer envisions “City” as a project that will persist far longer than the lifespans of even the most prized and resilient modern art, maybe in response to such challenges.
In a 2016 New Yorker article on the project, he commented, “My dear friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” referring to the American sculpture’s huge site-specific pieces. “All of that will be melted down. Why do you believe that? The best artwork created by the Incans, Olmecs, and Aztecs was looted, destroyed, torn apart, and their gold was melted down. They’ll learn it takes more effort to destroy my “City” sculpture than it is worth when they come out here to do it.”

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