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. Examining the profound effects of form and scale, his works evoke 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 probes the effects of scale and symbolism on perception.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2022
The Fall 2022 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Jordan Wolfson’s House with Face (2017) on its cover.
A City in the Ocean of Time
Michael Heizer’s City, an artwork over fifty years in the making, opened to the public this fall. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we are honored to publish the late Dave Hickey’s report on his visit to the City.
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.
Beginning Friday, September 2, 2022, Michael Heizer’s City (1970–2022), a vast sculpture in the desert of central Nevada, is open to the public. More than half a century in the making—a time scale suggestive of the immemorial cultures that have inspired it—City is as starkly uncompromising as the high desert of Nevada’s Basin and Range National Monument, the environment that is its setting and substance. Composed of shaped mounds and depressions made of compacted dirt, rock, and concrete, City is more than a mile and a half long and a half mile wide. Long-term care of the work is managed by Triple Aught Foundation, a not-for-profit organization.
In 2022, reservations may be requested for dates between September 2 and November 1. Requests may be made only by writing to email@example.com and will be answered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Michael Heizer, 45°, 90°, 180°, City, 1970–2022 © Michael Heizer. Photo: Ben Blackwell, courtesy Triple Aught Foundation
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
After “The Wild”
Contemporary Art from the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Collection
March 24–October 1, 2023
Jewish Museum, New York
Barnett Newman (1905–1970) was a generous supporter of his colleagues, who befriended and mentored countless younger artists. After his death, Annalee Newman, his widow, created the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation to help further the spirit of great art by providing grants. Diverse in style, training, background, and age, the foundation’s grantees—whose works make up this exhibition—share Newman’s seriousness of purpose, as well as his unrelenting drive to explore the outer limits of his own ideas. Work by Michael Heizer, Nancy Rubins, Richard Serra, and Sarah Sze is included.
Nancy Rubins, Diversifolia #1, 2017 © Nancy Rubins
Drawing in the 1960s and 1970s
May 21–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