Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Negativity squared.

Prepare to be bored with another land art adventure.

In my never ending quest to visit the West’s best claim to art-world fame, on my first day in Vegas we rented a car and headed to another remote land art destination. This time it was Michael Heizer’s Double Negative located a couple hours outside of Las Vegas in the wilds of Nevada.

Created in 1969 and 1970, this is the work that put Heizer on the fine-art map. Land art was all the rage at that moment in history, with Robert Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty completed in 1970 and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels created in 1976.

Double Negative asks many of the questions for which Heizer is famous. Mainly, what happens if art isn’t about building something, but instead about taking something away? Double Negative creates a rectangular void that spans a large ravine. As Heizer himself said, “There is nothing there, and yet it is still a sculpture.” God love the crazy artist.

This work is massive and challenging. It doesn’t offer the intrigue and charm of Spiral Jetty. But it is engaging. I wanted to see it because rumor has it that Michael Heizer’s City (another massive land art project that’s been under construction since 1972) is going to be open to the public in 2010 and I wanted to see this work before I experience City.

Double Negative is hard to find, largely because the work is fading into the landscape—and the artist doesn’t mind. The work is owned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (although I’m not sure what it means to own this.) And the artist has given very explicit instructions that Double Negative is not to be restored or conserved. Rather, nature should be left to tend to the sculpture.

And nature is doing its job. Double Negative is cut into very soft strata. The once sharp edges have now softened, to the point that it almost feels like a natural phenomenon. And yet, it still inspires.

I’m sad there are no land artists today. Because trekking to the middle of nowhere, driving through the remotest areas of rural America, meeting new people, experiencing works of art on the most massive of scales, and discovering new landscapes so remote you’d never be there without the art is intensely rewarding.

Here are pictures from the North side of Double Negative:

Here are pictures from the South side of Double Negative.

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