As long as you’re going to make a sculpture, why not make one that competes with a 747, or the Empire State Building, or the Golden Gate Bridge?
In his monumental excavations, site-specific constructions, geometric paintings, and drawings, Michael Heizer explores the relationship between positive and negative space, considering the profound effects of form and scale, and evoking the simultaneous feelings of awe and dread that constitute the sublime.
When Heizer was twelve years old, his parents permitted him to take a year off school to accompany his father, a renowned field archeologist, on a dig in Mexico. As his father researched the rock sources of ancient monuments, Heizer made site drawings, an exercise that he has continued to expand upon throughout his career. In the mid-1960s he left his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and headed to New York, where he supported himself by painting apartments, including the loft of Walter De Maria, with whom he developed a close, lasting friendship. During this time Heizer began to work on shaped canvases that he called “negative paintings.”
In the winter of 1967 Heizer made a trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains, where he dug two large pits in the woods, lining one with plywood and the other with sheet metal. He declared this work to be “ultra-modern art,” and it was a turning point in his practice. Heizer further manipulated the landscape in Double Negative (1969), a pair of cuts fifty feet deep in facing cliff edges of Mormon Mesa in Nevada, made by removing 240,000 tons of sandstone and rhyolite.
In the 1970s Heizer continued to seek out ideal terrains for his work, compiling real estate files for property in six western states and buying remote land as raw material. In 1970 he began City, a project in the Nevada desert that he has been working on for more than forty years, and is inspired by Native American traditions of mound building and the pre-Colombian ritual cities of Central and South America. Using materials primarily mined from the surrounding land, City merges Heizer’s interests in ancient civilization with his singular ability to work with immense variations in scale, perspective, and viewpoint.
Simultaneous to the construction of City, Heizer has developed several major bodies of work, including shaped canvases featuring screen-printed colors and “negative wall sculptures” composed of rocks and boulders set into rectangular niches. In 2012 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art installed Levitated Mass (2012), a 340-ton granite boulder perched over a narrow outdoor passageway. In 2015 Heizer debuted the Altar series (2015) at Gagosian, West 24th Street, New York, large steel sculptures that allude to a wide range of pictographic influences, from ancient rock carvings and hieroglyphs to cattle-branding symbols. By unifying the images and architecture of different cultures and eras, Heizer strives to create art that could outlast many generations as he explores the effects of scale and symbolism on perception.
Extended through April 2, 2016
An Index of Process and Mutation
January 14–April 2, 2016
Beverly Hills 20-Year Anniversary Invitational Exhibition, 1995–2015
October 30–December 19, 2015
Chamberlain, Frankenthaler, Heizer, Kiefer, Stella
August 21–October 3, 2015
West 21st Street, New York
Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Intimate Grandeur: Glenstone Museum
Paul Goldberger tracks the evolution of Mitchell and Emily Rales’s Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Set amid 230 acres of pristine landscape and housing a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art, this graceful complex of pavilions, designed by architects Thomas Phifer and Partners, opened to the public in the fall of 2018.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019
The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.
Behind the Art
Michael Heizer: New Paintings and Sculpture
Michael Heizer’s impressive installation at Gagosian Beverly Hills features new paintings that deny the conventional rectangular or square confines of the canvas, alongside negative wall sculptures, known for their size, raw materials, and ability to awe viewers.
Michael Heizer: Altars
Kara Vander Weg takes us through the artist’s 2015 Altars exhibition.
In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art debuted Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer. How it got there was a work of art in itself, and the topic of a documentary by Doug Pray. Derek Blasberg caught up with Pray to talk about his film.
American Academy of Arts and Letters
On May 19, 2021, Michael Heizer will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters during a virtual award ceremony. Founded in 1898, the organization honors the country’s leading visual artists, architects, composers, and writers, and seeks to foster interest in literature, music, and art by administering awards, exhibiting work, funding performances, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums. Election into the American Academy of Arts and Letters is considered the highest form of recognition of artistic merit in the United States, and its 300 members are elected for life.
Michael Heizer, Complex One, City, 1970– © Michael Heizer. Photo: Mary Converse
Artists for Biden
October 2–8, 2020
Artists for Biden is an online-only sale of works by leading contemporary artists to support the Biden Victory Fund—a joint fundraising committee authorized by Biden for President, the Democratic National Committee, and forty-seven state Democratic parties. All proceeds from the sale will provide resources needed to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and support other Democratic candidates across the country in the lead up to Election Day. Work by Cecily Brown, Michael Heizer, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Sze, Stanley Whitney, and Christopher Wool will be available. To register for early access on October 1, visit secure.joebiden.com.
Sarah Sze, Afterimage, Silver, 2018 © Sarah Sze
FOG Design+Art 2020
January 16–19, 2020, booth 204
Fort Mason Festival Pavilion, San Francisco
Gagosian is pleased to participate in FOG Design+Art 2020 with a presentation of works by Michael Heizer and Mary Weatherford. Together, Heizer and Weatherford conjure a dialogue about our complex interaction with the environment at large. In two works from Heizer’s ongoing Negative Wall Sculptures, unrefined rocks are contained by a smooth manmade alloy, yet they remain imposing—even seemingly impossible—in the apparent negation of their enormous weight. Weatherford’s works on paper feature abstracted landscapes that do not set urban and rural environments against one another, but immerse us instead in the artist’s personal impressions of a world outside of time.
Michael Heizer, Scoria Negative Wall Sculpture, 2007 © Michael Heizer
Closing this Week
Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s
Through September 19, 2021
Menil Collection, Houston
This exhibition presents drawings that challenge the conventional idea of the monument as a permanent, grand, or commemorative form. The provisional character of drawing helped artists envision forms in improbable scales and for impossible conditions, radically transforming the monument to reflect a new set of sensibilities. Scaled to the size of the page but enormous in ambition, these works rethink history while rendering environments as at turns absurd, surreal, or subjective. Work by Walter De Maria and Michael Heizer is included.
Walter De Maria, Untitled [Desert Walk], c. 1961, Menil Collection, Houston © Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo: Paul Hester
April 20–July 22, 2018
Fondazione Prada, Milan
The group of exhibited artworks, realized between 1960 and 2016, represents a possible mapping of the ideas and visions that have guided the creation of the collection and the collaborations with the artists that have contributed to the activities of the foundation throughout the years. Work by Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Damien Hirst, Carsten Höller, and Jeff Koons is included.
Carsten Höller, Upside-Down Mushroom Room, 2000 © Carsten Höller. Photo by Attilio Maranzano, courtesy Fondazione Prada
We Are Here
August 19, 2017–April 1, 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
In honor of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s fiftieth anniversary, the museum presents We Are Here, a three-part exhibition drawn from its collection. I Am You gathers works that question how we relate to and shape our environments; You Are Here examines how the role of the viewer has changed over time; and We Are Everywhere showcases artists who borrow from popular culture. Work by Richard Artschwager, Francis Bacon, Chris Burden, Ellen Gallagher, Andreas Gursky, Michael Heizer, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Rudolf Stingel, Andy Warhol, and Franz West is included.
Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986 © Jeff Koons.
Photo by Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago
Los Angeles to New York
Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971
March 19–September 10, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
This exhibition features modern and contemporary works from the personal collection of gallerist Virginia Dwan. The selection has been culled from Dwan’s promised gift to Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art, which includes major works by American artists based on the East and West Coasts. The exhibition aims to illustrate Dwan’s creative spirit and her close association with Minimalism, conceptual art, and large-scale Earthworks. Included are artists Arakawa, Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, and Yves Klein.
Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969