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In March, the art world rallied to call for the protection of Nevada’s Basin and Range area, a landscape of rich archaeological resources and the site of Michael Heizer’s sprawling land art piece, “City” (1972–present). The region has faced numerous environmental threats, including a plan to develop a nuclear waste rail line, but last night the White House announced that President Barack Obama will sign a proclamation designating it a national monument, effectively protecting the 704,000-acre area. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, the new monument is the second designated in the state within the last eight months (following the Tule Springs designation in December). The Basin and Range National Monument joins a list of over 100 such sites across the US.
Heizer, whose ongoing outdoor sculpture is over a mile long and blends with the craggy landscape, will attend the signing in Washington, DC, along with Senator Harry Reid, who last year spearheaded efforts to conserve the region. In an official announcement the White House called the Basin and Range “an iconic American landscape,” emphasizing the significance of its over 4,000-year-old rock art that “serves as an irreplaceable resource for archaeologists, historians, and ecologists.” The statement also acknowledges the significance of Heizer’s work:
The area is also home to ‘City,’ one of the most ambitious examples of the distinctively American land-art movement. Located on privately-held land in Garden Valley, the work by artist Michael Heizer combines modern abstract architecture and engineering with ancient American aesthetic influences.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, home to Heizer’s famous “Levitated Mass,” celebrated the announcement on Twitter, announcing, “Michael Heizer’s CITY is safe!” In a statement on Thursday, Michael Govan, LACMA’s director and CEO also praised the White House for taking on the responsibility of preserving Heizer’s work.
“Heizer is among the greatest living American artists, and he has worked, ostensibly alone in the desert, for more than four decades realizing this monumental achievement,” Govan said. “President Obama’s action [will] cement ‘City’s’ place in the history of art and American culture.”
Preservation for posterity is a challenge many earthworks face. “Lightning Field” (1977), erected by Walter De Maria in the New Mexico desert, has for decades battled nature’s forces; the Dia Art Foundation, which commissioned the work, is working to restore it, with Larry Gagosian as a major backer. Debate has also cropped up over protecting Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” (1970), the black basalt rock structure jutting into Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The jetty faces both natural and industrial threats, but conservationists have questioned whether Smithson, who was interested in the concept of entropy, would have actually wanted restoration efforts to proceed. Dia currently has a documentation project to record the sculpture’s year-to-year changes, stating on its website that it “ensures to do everything in its power to preserve the artwork, and it is committed to maintaining a photographic record of the work and documenting changes to the piece over time.”