Mysterious Nevada Desert City Opens After 50 Years – ‘The Largest Contemporary Art Work on the Planet’

Mysterious Nevada Desert City Opens After 50 Years – ‘The Largest Contemporary Art Work on the Planet’
Mysterious Nevada Desert City Opens After 50 Years – ‘The Largest Contemporary Art Work on the Planet’

“City,” a massive complex of outdoor structures and volumes that artist Michael Heizer began building in the Nevada desert in 1970, will finally begin welcoming visitors next month.

The opening of the site on September 2, more than 50 years after work began on the site, marks the completion of Heizer’s most ambitious and career-defining project.


The “City” has been described as possibly the largest modern work of art on the planet, stretching over a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, recalling the scale of ancient sites such as Native American mounds, Mesoamerican metropolises and Egyptian cult complexes . It is located in the remote Basin and Range National Monument in central eastern Nevada, within the ancestral lands of the Nuwu (Southern Paiute) and Newe (Western Shoshoni), about 160 miles north of Las Vegas.

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For the first year of public access, only a limited number of visitors will be admitted, with advance registration required, according to CNN.

The construction of the “City” which was initially financed by Heizer himself, eventually received the support of many important collectors, foundations and dealers through the establishment in 1998 of the Triple Aught Foundation, which will manage and maintain the space for years to come. The foundation — whose board includes Heizer himself, Los Angeles County Museum of Art director and CEO Michael Govan, Museum of Modern Art director Glenn D. Lowry, Glenstone collector and co-founder Emily Wei Rales and Gagosian Senior Director Kara Vander Weg – created an endowment for the City with nearly $30 million in seed funding.


“Over the years, I have sometimes compared Michael Heizer’s ‘City’ to some of the most important ancient monuments and cities,” Govan said in a statement. “But now I only compare it to himself. It is a work of art that is aware of our primordial impulses to build and organize space, but incorporates our modernity, our awareness and reflection on the subjectivity of our human experience of time and space, and the many stories of the cultures we have built.”


The road to building the “City” was never simple, as it involved shaping huge volumes of soil, moving rocks and building massive concrete structures. This process has at times been further complicated by external factors. In 2014 and 2015, amid fears that the Basin and Range could shrink, potentially allowing disruptive development near the “City” site, a coalition of museum leaders and the late Nevada Sen. Harry Reid fought to protect the area through a public demand and legislation introduced in Congress. And in 2017, as the Trump administration moved to open previously protected lands to resource extraction, some worried that the Heiser project would be among the areas at risk.

Perhaps in response to these threats, Heizer envisions “The City” as a work that will outlast the lifespan of even the most precious and hard-edged contemporary art.

“My good friend Richard Serra builds with military steel,” he told The New Yorker in 2016 about the project, discussing the American sculptor’s large-scale site-specific works. “All these things will melt away. Why am I thinking this? The Incas, the Olmecs, the Aztecs – their best works of art were looted, leveled, broken up and their gold melted down. When they come here to see my sculpture “City”, they will realize that it takes more energy to destroy it than it is worth.”


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