"As long as you're going to make a sculpture,
why not make one that competes with a 747, or
the Empire State Building, or the Golden Gate Bridge."
- Michael Heizer
City, Michael Heizer's life-long project, is quite possibly the largest piece of contemporary art ever attempted. Because the artist is a very private individual, little is known about City, except that he has been working on it since 1972 (he claims 1970). Located in the remote desert of Nevada, City comprises five phases, each consisting of a number of structures referred to as complexes.
Phase One, about which most is known, consists of three complexes, which are pictured above and below. "Complex Two" (seen above), the largest complex in the Phase One, is estimated to reach 70-80 feet in height and a quarter mile in length. The complexes are made mostly of earth, and were inspired in part by Native American traditions of mound-building and the ancient cities of Central and South America. They include massive decorations, such as "stele" on Complex Two, and large, geometrically shaped metal bars on Complex One.
Newly released pictures of a complex in Phase Five of City depict a complicated structure of wedges and shapes named "45º, 90º, 180º" (a name Heizer has used previously for works at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA and at Rice University, Houston, TX). The form of "45º, 90º, 180º," like that "Complex One" (which appears in the background of the picture below), is a play on perspective; when viewed from the front, it appears as one simple shape; only from the side or above does its true complexity come to light. This emphasis on the experience of art from different viewpoints and through time is a recurring theme of Heizer's work.
The construction of City was originally self-supported, with early funds from gallery-owner Virginia Dwan (who supported his work on Double Negative). Heizer now receives funding from the Dia Art Foundation, through grants (of undisclosed amounts) from the Lannan Foundation, the Riggio family, and the Brown Foundation. With this more stable source of funding, work on City--the total cost of which may run to $25 million--now progresses at a much more rapid pace, and should be completed sometime before 2010.
"I'm building this work for later.
I'm interested in making a work of art that
will represent all the civilization to this point."
- Michael Heizer
A satellite photo of City from 1999 is available below. For more photos of City, see An Imprint in the Void, eight photos of City by Tom Vinetz that appeared in The New York Times or the recent article about the work from The New York Times Magazine.
Visiting City is NOT currently possible. Citing safety and artistic reasons, Heizer has disallowed all visitation of the work in progress. Heizer owns all of the property around the work and has marked the access to the site with a sign that prohibits trespassing. The Dia Foundation has indicated that once the work is completed, it will be open it to the public.
Since the information below was written, newer satellite images have been made available on Google Maps), providing a rather spectacular full-color view of recent developments on City.
The location of City has been the subject of much speculation. A 1999 New York Times article on the work and a 2005 follow-up in The New York Times Magazine declined to mention its location. Articles about the work in 2004, in relation to the controversy over the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, indicated that it was in rural Lincoln County, Nevada. Based on this and other information published on the internet, I was able to locate City using publicly available satellite imagery from TerraServer USA.
The imagery on the site was taken 24 September 1999, when only Phase I of City had been completed. Given Heizer's funding, City has progressed much since then. Even so, Complex One, Complex Two, and Complex Three (the second, in the middle, being the largest, and the last, on the left, visibly under construction) are clearly visible in the satellite photo to the right (click for a higher-resolution image).
This photo is available to the public on TerraServer USA, as is a USGS topographical map from 1985 which indicates the work "sculpture" twice in the location. The approximate coordinates of Phase I are: 38°01'48" N, 115°26'10" W, which places City approximately 156 miles from Las Vegas, NV. There are few good maps of this area, but I found the State of Nevada General Highway Map, Quadrangle 8-3 (despite its 1984 creation) to be the most useful. Below is a picture of this map, with the location of City indicated with a black rectangle (click for a high-resolution image).
- Michael Kimmelman, "Art's Last, Lonely Cowboy," The New York Times Magazine (6 Feb 2005, Pages 33-41, 59, 72, 78)
- Michael Kimmelman, "Michael Heizer: A Sculptor's Colossus of the Desert," The New York Times (12 Dec 1999, Page B1)
- Sean Thomas, "The Epic Earth," The Guardian (22 Dec 2004)
- Goerge Knapp, "Knappster: Yucca Grandstaning Neglects Real Impacts," Las Vegas Mercury (11 Mar 2004)
- Keith Rogers, "Yucca Mountain Rail Line: Residents Oppose Route" Las Vegas Review-Journal (25 April 2004)
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