Not Land Art, But Evidence it Exists

05 Jun 2018

Overton, Nevada
Michael Heizer, Double Negative

05 Jun 2018


In June last year, Michelle and I travelled out past the Great Salt Lake to west Utah to visit Nancy Holt’s sun Tunnels. We turned North along a two lane road (Route 223) for about an hour before approaching signs that warned of road closure due to landslide. We never saw the sun tunnels.

A year later, here I am again, driving North on I-15 from Las Vegas, the dry procession to see Michael Heizer’s land work, Double Negative. I know the roads will not be paved this time, I have packed water, snacks, and messaged friends and family my intentions. I pass through the Moapa Valley, which is east of the plateau which holds Heizer’s work. I enter the gravel road, pass the power plant, and follow the service road which quickly turns to sand. As I make my way further into the landscape, I can feel the car become less responsive in the soft sand, I keep up my speed so as to not get stuck. All is fine until the dirt road begins to incline up the mesa, I know that the plateau is flat once I reach the top about 300 yards away. Not more than half way up, my wheels begin to spin and dig the car into the ground, I am stuck. /

/. I think about my situation, alone in the desert with a rented car that I cannot move forward.

Fortunately, I am able to reverse the car down the little bit of hill that I conquered, find a flat spot with less sand to turn around, and contemplate my next steps. I realize I am not going to be able to visit Heizer’s work. / 

/. A bit shaken from the situation, I compose myself and begin driving back to the town of Moapa. Defeated, I decided to go watch the Cessna that has been circling overhead practicing touch-and-goes at Perkins-Field U08.

Land art, emerging from the desire to break out of a gallery format, provoked many artists in the seventies and eighties to compose work on large expanses of land, within specific landscapes, or even to highlight temporality of place (see Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, James Turrell). With this movement becomes the idea of an aerial perspective, that is, from a low flying plane (see Cessna; see Robert Smithson flying accident while working on Amarillo Ramp, completed by Nancy Holt 1973). I watched this Cessna complete take offs and landings, envious of the pilot’s perspective that I had travelled so far to see.

While watching the Cessna fly away, I began thinking about the landscape of where I was. Dry, dusty, brown intermixed with splashes of green below a field of blue. I think about how I was defeated, once again, by the context of place for which I wished to immerse myself. Perhaps this was the point, the trials, the procession, the situation, the evidence of the landscape in which the earth work was created. It is a lot easier and safer to see a work of art within a gallery, but I realize that was not the intention of the work, and that my uncomforts are a result (maybe intended) of the artist.

The title refers to Lauretta Vinciarelli’s  book Not Architecture But Evidence it Exists (1998), a series of watercolor paintings that demonstrate architectural qualities of light, repition, texture, reflection, and depth.

Land art cannot simply be viewed, you must enter, succumb, and contribute to the context in which it was created.

I found an easier and shallower pass (Mormon Mesa Rd.) though the mesa and was able to spend a few hours within, around, on, and near Heizer’s Double Negative. It was powerful, but that is not what the work is about.



2017 SOM PRIZE | copyright Zachary Wignall 2018