After 50 Years, Michael Heizer’s Colossal Desert Installation Is Finally Finished

From Atlantis to Paititi, nothing fires the imagination so much as a lost city — remote, mysterious, possibly existing only as legend. Perhaps that’s why the art world has waited patiently, some 50 years, for land artist and sculptor Michael Heizer to complete his monumental project, City, on which he has worked since 1970. The work was ambitious even for Heizer, who is internationally recognized for large-scale indoor and outdoor earthwork sculptures and concrete complexes. That journey of faith has come to fruition, as it was announced this week that City will be open for public visitation by advance reservation only, beginning September 2. Visits will be limited for the first year, as the foundations supporting the initiative grapple with how to maintain and operate an art location so far from any other civilization.

Michael Heizer, “Complex One, City” (photo by Mary Converse)
Michael Heizer, “Complex Two, City” (photo by Joe Rome)

City is built on the lands of the ​​Nuwu (Southern Paiute) and Newe Segobia (Western Shoshone), in the remote Basin and Range National Monument in central eastern Nevada, about 200 miles north of Las Vegas. The site is approximately near another of Heizer’s hugely influential earthworks, “Double Negative” (1969), sited at the Moapa Valley on Mormon Mesa near Overton, Nevada, and — at least as of the time I visited the site in 2016 — is not marked by any signage and accessible only by off-roading across the open desert. The scale and precision of Heizer’s works defy credulity under the most institutional of conditions; the results he has repeatedly produced in a landscape void of any supporting infrastructure absolutely beggar belief.

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Work on City was originally self-funded by Heizer, but over the decades, institutions and individuals have lined up to keep the dream alive, including art patron Virginia Dwan, Dia Art Foundation, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Lannan Foundation. The Triple Aught Foundation, established in 1998 with Heizer as its principal officer to help complete the work, owns and manages City and is charged with its long-term preservation; the foundation recently established an endowment for the project with initial funding close to $30 million. In June of 2015, the 1.5-miles-long and half-mile-wide City complex and surrounding area (704,000 acres in total) were proclaimed the Basin and Range National Monument in order to secure the environment for the enjoyment of future generations.

Michael Heizer, “45°, 90°, 180°, City” (photo by Joe Rome)
“Complex One” and “Complex Two” of Michael Heizer’s City (photo by Joe Rome)

“Michael Heizer is one of the greatest innovators of our time and I still believe today what I thought when Heizer began the City, that this work demanded to be built,” said Dwan, who is a Triple Aught Foundation Board member, in a statement. “It is extraordinary that he has completed one of the most important artworks of this century, over decades in the making, and I have been fortunate enough to witness this transformative sculptural intervention from the very beginning.”

Currently, Triple Aught is offering short day trips for a maximum of six visitors, with prior reservations only, and only in favorable weather. Due to the rural and abandoned terrain, they caution that visiting without a pre-arranged visit is potentially dangerous, strictly prohibited, and considered trespassing.

Work on City began in 1970.
Michael Heizer, “Complex One, City” (photo by Joe Rome)

“Over the years I would sometimes compare Michael Heizer’s City project to some of the most important ancient monuments and cities,” said Triple Aught Foundation Board member Michael Govan, who is also the CEO and director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). “But now I only compare it to itself […] Working with Michael Heizer for more than 25 years to help him realize his City project has been one of the most important experiences of my own life and work.”

Reservations for future visits may be requested by writing to [email protected]. Visitors will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis, and visitations will end for the 2022 season on November 1. The price of a visit is $150 for an adult, $100 for students, and is free (but with reservations still required) for residents of Lincoln, Nye, and White Pine, Nevada, counties.


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