double negative | a website about Michael Heizer
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"There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture."

-Michael Heizer

Image of Double Negative

Double Negative is Michael Heizer's first prominent earthwork. Seen above from near the edge of the work, and below from space via satellite, Double Negative consists of two trenches cut into the eastern edge of the Mormon Mesa, northwest of Overton, Nevada in 1969-70.

The trenches line up across a large gap formed by the natural shape of the mesa edge. Including this open area across the gap, the trenches together measure 1,500 feet long, 50 feet deep, and 30 feet wide (457 meters long, 15.2 meters deep, 9.1 meters wide). 240,000 tons (218,000 tonnes) of rock, mostly rhyolite and sandstone, was displaced in the construction of the trenches.

Satellite image of Double Negative

Double Negative was among the first "earthworks," artworks created as part of a movement known as "land art" or "earth art." Earthworks are contemporary artworks that use as their canvas or medium the earth itself. In keeping with the mission of modern art, Double Negative blurs the distinction between sculpture ("art") and normal objects such as rocks ("not art"), and encourage viewers to consider how the earth relates to art. The sheer size of Double Negative also invites contemplation of the scale of art, and the relation of the viewer the earth and to art itself. How does art change when it can't fit in a museum? How does one observe an artwork that's a quarter-mile long?

Double Negative, though a notable piece of art, is essentially no more than a big trench (and even then, not a complete trench, as it crosses empty space). In that, it consists more of what was than what currently is. Constructing Double Negative was an act of construction only inasmuch as something was taken away, and that this removal constituted a creative act. In that the artwork is itself negative space (and when it crosses empty space, it is doubly negative space, as the title suggests), it begs meditation on the principle of art as creation, when Heizer has not in fact added but substracted.

Double Negative belongs to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, through the gift of Virginia Dwan.

Image of Double NegativeImage of Double Negative


Double Negative is located in a rather remote area of the Nevada desert, but it can be visited relatively easily. The journey requires travel on unpaved, rocky roads, so a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is highly recommended.

Directions to Double Negative are very hard to come by, even from locals in Overton. COPY THESE DIRECTIONS or PRINT THEM OUT (easy-print directions and map).

Some walking in rocky, sandy terrain is required, so you should be prepared for exposure to desert temperatures, which can run up to 120 degrees in the summer. BRING EXTRA WATER AND WEAR GOOD WALKING SHOES.

The mostly unpaved road to Double Negative is most easily traveled from Overton. Overton can be reached via I-15 Exit 93 - NV Hwy 169 - towards Logandale/Overton. Overton is approximately 65 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and is approximately 11 miles south-east of I-15 on NV Hwy 169.


NV Hwy 169 is known as Moapa Valley Blvd. in Overton. At the intersection of NV Hwy 169 and Cooper Street, turn north onto Cooper Street. If you are coming from I-15, this is a turn to the left.

Follow Cooper Street up the hill until you hit the Overton Airport (marked on the map above). At the airport, turn right onto Mormon Mesa Road.

Continue on Mormon Mesa Road towards the large mesa ahead of you. This is the Mormon Mesa, or Virgin River Mesa. The road is only partially paved; most of the rest of the way it is graded gravel. Follow Mormon Mesa Road to the top of the mesa.

As you come to the top of the mesa (marked "Mesa Edge" on the map), you will pass a cattle guard. Continue east across the mesa for 2.7 miles. Do NOT leave the mesa. If you are descending down the east edge of the Mesa, you have gone too far.

Just before you come across a second cattle guard (marked "Cattle Guard" on the map) at the east edge of the mesa, there will be a less-traveled road that extends along the rim of the mesa. Turn left onto this rim road and follow it north 1.3 miles.

After 1.3 miles on the rim road, park your vehicle. Walk east towards the rim of the mesa until you find the earthwork. You should be within 50 yards of the earthwork.

Part of the beauty of earthworks lies in their natural surroundings. Please do not disturb the desert ecosystem found around Double Negative. The surrounding area is public land belonging to the Bureau of Reclamation or the Bureau of Land Management. Collecting or distrubing plants, fossils, or artifacts on this land is prohibited.


In print:

  • William Wilson, "Don't Know Trenches but We Know What We Like," Los Angeles Times (27 Jul 1969, Pages 16-19).
  • "The New Art: It's Way, Way Out," Newsweek (29 July 1969, Pages 56-63).
  • Mark C. Taylor, Michael Heizer: Double Negative - Sculpture in the Land (New York: Rizzoli, in association with The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Nevada Institute for Contemporary Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 1991), Hardcover, ISBN 0-847-81426-2

On the web:

Also visit the master list of links on our website.

This page was created and designed by Nick Tarasen.
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Please see the credits for proprietary information about this website.