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More than half a century in the making, the American artist Michael Heizer finally opens his pharaonic “sculpture city,” in the heart of the Nevada desert, to the public.

© Ben Blackwell

Land Art pioneer Michael Heizer’s legendary City (1970-2022) seems to emerge from another world with its abstract forms, composed of sand, compacted earth, rock, and concrete: a marvel finally coming to life in the west-central portion of Basin and Range National Monument in the heart of the Nevada desert. Its design brings back to life ancient cities, like Native American, pre-Columbian, and Egyptian ceremonial sites, while suggesting the forms of a futuristic megalopolis. “A human experience of time and space, evocative of the immemorial cultures that inspired it,” as stated by the Triple Aught Foundation, a non-profit organization in charge of managing its construction, monitoring, and maintenance. City measures 2.4 km by 1.6 km, reaches a height of 24 meters, and was built over 52 years, for a budget of 40 million dollars. A substantial sum, spread over five decades, which allowed access to colossal industrial means. The 77-year-old artist initially self-financed the project before a coalition of institutions and investors came on board.

© Ben Blackwell

Unparalleled beauty

With its post-apocalyptic air, City encompasses three elements. “Complex One,” created between 1972 and 1976, was inspired by the Zozer step pyramid built by Imhotep in Egypt. “Complex Two” followed in the 1980s, again invoking ancient cultures. Finally, the geometric extractions “45°, 90°, 180°,” made of triangles and rectangles. Michael Heizer, son of an archaeologist, continues to inscribe the memory of American civilization in the landscape with power and endurance. He retains his ability to work with immense variations in scale, perspective, and viewpoint, producing earthwork sculptures that exist both outside and inside museums and galleries. Like the most iconic, Double Negative (1969), which involved digging a trench in Moapa Valley, Nevada. From this dream come true, he finally opens his sanctuary to the public, completing one of the most important contemporary works of the century that masterfully merges art, architecture, and landscape.

© Ben Blackwell

Nathalie Dassa