Mystery Monolith has Disappeared From Utah Desert Overnight

The stainless steel monolith that was discovered in the red canyons of Utah’s desert (via Wikimedia Commons)

In another unforeseen development, the mysterious monolith that was discovered last week in the deserts of Utah has vanished in an equally inexplicable manner, local authorities say.

In a statement on Sunday, November 29, the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Utah office said that the “illegal” three-sided stainless steel object was removed from the site on Friday evening “by an unknown party.”

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The monolith has since been replaced with a column of stones topped by an upward-facing metal triangle, creating the shape of an arrow to mark the sculpture’s former location.

Meanwhile, a copycat monolith has emerged on a hillside in Romania. The metal structure, which is about 13-feet tall, was discovered on Thursday close to a historic fortress in the city of Piatra Neamt. Authorities have launched an investigation.

“The BLM did not remove the structure which is considered private property,” the agency added in its statement, noting that it does not investigate “crimes involving private property,” which are handled by the local sheriff’s office.

Some Facebook commentators disputed BLM’s comment on the limits of its jurisdiction and wondered how an installation on public land can be seen as “private property.” In reply to one of the comments, the agency clarified: “We investigate activities that are not authorized on BLM public lands, and installing an artificial object into the ground on public lands was not authorized. Stolen property is not our jurisdiction.”

Soon after its discovery last week, Reddit users quickly identified the location of the monolith near Lockhart Basin Road, south of Moab in eastern Utah. In the days that followed, the canyon has become a pilgrimage site for adventurers and explorers.

David Surber from Salt Lake City was one of the last visitors to the monolith. He drove seven hours through the night to reach the location on Friday morning and documented the journey on his Instagram account.

“There’s not much in this world that is left undiscovered, so why not be one of the people who get out there and have a look at a unique object?” Surber said to Hyperallergic in an interview. “I definitely did not think that this would hit the news cycle as much as it did. I was simply going on a hike, trying to confirm some things for Reddit users.”

Responding to the theories online about the origins of the monolith, Surber said: “I believe it is some type of landscape artist. I would have loved for it to be something otherworldly, but based on the construction I have to believe that it is human-made.”

Within the art world, New York gallerist David Zwirner has suggested in favor of the theory that the monolith was the work of minimalist artist John McCracken. However, satellite imagery from Google Earth shows that monolith was installed years after McCracken’s death in 2011. Zwirner, whose eponymous Chelsea gallery represents McCracken’s estate, might have been seizing on the opportunity to promote a planned exhibition of the late artist’s works in March of 2021.

As the mystery grows, a flurry of internet memes has likened the monolith to a Tesla charger and an airport sign, among many other suggestions. One particularly shrewd user photoshopped Maurizio Cattelan’s infamous duct-taped banana onto the steel structure, offering commentary on the tye of sensational artworks that grabs our attention. Some have also pointed to similarities between the Utah monolith and Richard Serra’s sculptures in the deserts of Qatar.

“I think it was a good distraction for people during this time of year with the pandemic and everything else that has been going on in the world,” Surber told Hyperallergic. “People need to get out and explore nature to appreciate the planet and gain some perspective on our spot in this world.”


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