In 1972, the Land Art pioneer Michael Heizer began buying up tracts of land near Nevada’s Garden and Coal valleys. Set against the backdrop of the Worthington Mountains, the desert basin is home to the White River Narrows Archeological District, a historically registered site that contains ancient rock art, early Native American trails, and the remains of 19th century settlements. Greater sage-grouse, pygmy rabbits, and antelope frolic among its native White River catseye.
Over the past four decades, Heizer has been reshaping his mile-and-a-half tract of desert into a sculptural work called “City,” which he is expected to complete soon. When that finally happens, it will be unveiled to the public for the first time. But before it even opens, the future of what some anticipate will be Heizer’s land art masterpiece — to say nothing of its stunning setting — remains uncertain.
In 2010, Heizer announced he would bulldoze the work should a Department of Energy plan to construct a rail line for carrying nuclear waste through Garden Valley to a proposed Yucca Mountain dump site come to pass. It was ultimately abandoned, but the fear of such developments remains. Last September, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to pass a bill that would restrict mining and energy exploration there. The Garden Valley Withdrawal Act, which would have protected 1,250 square miles between the two valleys, was opposed by many who felt it was too sweeping, and it failed to pass.
Now the art world has gotten involved, putting its weight behind the Conservation Lands Foundation’s four-month campaign (which started in January) to have “City” designated a National Monument. As the Art Newspaper reported, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which owns Heizer’s “Levitated Mass,” has been promoting their petition on social media.
“Michael Heizer’s City needs your help … Protect the land, protect the art #protectCITY,” reads a tweet from Wednesday morning. The Museum of Modern Art, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, all of which are participating in the campaign, are among the more than 125 who retweeted LACMA’s message.
“The extraordinary Basin and Range landscape by itself is worth protecting. Michael Heizer’s art must be protected too,” LACMA Director Michael Govan told TAN. “Together, the environment and the artwork comprise one of the nation’s greatest natural and artistic treasures.” Supporters can sign a Facebook petition to preserve “Basin and Range” here.
LACMA Director of Executive Communications Scott Tennent also wrote Wednesday on the museum’s Unframed blog:
While the outcome of this issue has clear meaning to residents of the state and defenders of the environment, it also has significant cultural impact, concerning objects both ancient and contemporary … “City” is Heizer’s magnum opus. Although it is not yet finished, images of City have circulated for decades. As with many of Heizer’s greatest works, the sculpture is incomplete without the surrounding landscape. The solitude of City is part of its power. To have the surrounding land developed into anything would severely impact Heizer’s work. To see the land developed into a site for military, energy, or waste purposes, would ruin it forever. After 43 years of work, can it really be destroyed like this?