Art & Culture

The City from Nowhere

Half a century building a city while living in a tent.

Although I left the friendly confines of NYC where I was born and raised, I still look forward to the Sunday NY Times as a wonderful weekend escape. Recently I read an interesting article on a piece of land-sculpture called “The City”. The actual land-sculpture is a mile long and half a mile wide, and is considered the largest art work ever produced. But that’s not really the story.

Its creator is Michael Heizer, a fairly well known east coast artist, whose work was prominent in the 1970s. After acquiring funding from various sources (more about that later), he purchased land in Garden Valley, Nevada, where he still lives in a small tent/house on the property. He has spent the last half century, or so creating ‘the City’.

Michael Heizer

Using local dirt, rock, sand, and concrete as building materials, and assembled with heavy machinery, the work is composed of five phases, each consisting of a number of structures referred to as complexes, with some of the structures reaching a height of 80 feet.

The piece which cost over $40 Million dollars and took almost 50 years to complete, is just now being opened to the public…but before you run and get tickets for the whole family, to date they are awarding 6 tickets per day, and on certain days, one.

You can see photos and video of the site, and the Times had a picture or two as well. 

A small section of “The City”

The story for me is two fold: why and how do you do something like this, and who is crazy/committed enough to undertake something that will take more than half of your life and will basically cut you off from the world as you knew it?

One response as to why someone does this is “isolation”. Being alone in a massive country with nothing but the work. (To be completely honest, there were hired workers on the property, but they all go home at night) 

It is said that “isolation is the laboratory of genius”. That depriving the mind of external stimuli fosters a deeper creativity and allows a more acute sense of concentration.

Heizer has spent the last 52 years deprived of family and friends, and the company of other artists, while committing himself to ‘the work’. His vision is now being revealed to a small slice of the public.

Although the ticket sales will be minimum, perhaps between one and six as I said, still as the great artist Marcel Duchamp said “The work is not done until the audience has seen it.” Heizer will ask that all viewers walk the distances, and there will be no gift shop, cafeteria and other such luxuries. In itself this is a bit of isolation; asking the audience to travel great distance, and pay a price (which I would imagine is not cheap) to spend time in this environment without customary amenities, perhaps the artist is asking us to isolate, focus and create an art of our own.  

Now that might be worth traveling for. Here is a brief video from youtube, which should give you a good feel for the megastructure.

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