On a map, the emptier parts of Lincoln and Nye counties look like the tail end of nowhere. Not so. From petroglyphs to the area’s distinctive basin-and-range geology, there’s enough there to prompt a preservation movement that includes legislation by Sen. Harry Reid to set aside more than 1,200 square miles. The resource inventory includes art: the massive, decades-in-the-making, rumored-to-be-nearly-finished City project by Michael Heizer. A vast collection of built forms that allude to both modernity and ancient monuments, it’s already famous enough that Reid predicts its opening will increase tourism a “million-fold.” So art supporters have joined the effort. On April 7, Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and critic Dave Hickey, will talk about Heizer, City, the nature of time and more, at 6 p.m. in the Cabaret Jazz room of The Smith Center (free).
Desert Companion recently spoke to Govan about …
… THE EVENT
“We’re going to have a conversation about the nature of time and preservation. I come from a museum, where we think a lot about art preservation over millennia. Dave is someone who’s been engaged mostly in the art of the new — he talks a lot about change and the avant garde and so on. The idea in this conversation is to come at this artwork from different perspectives. We have no script, so it’s gonna go where it’s gonna go.”
… THE STATURE OF CITY
“I’ll be honest, I think it’s one of the greatest American artworks, if not international artworks, that’s ever been made.
“What people are going to find is that it’s a landmark in many, many ways. Obviously in the landscape, but also in art history — he’s at the highest level of thinking about the fact that we live in a time that’s very much about the new, and technology and industry and all that; but that we still have a foot in our ancient human history of monuments and earlier civilizations.”
… CITY AND THE MEANING OF TIME
“You can almost think there are these three markers of time there. Working backward, there is the very new, the fact that he is engaged in high-tech engineering, and is very knowledgeable about everything from mining to highway building to concrete mixtures. And then there’s this ancient civilization aspect, which is that human beings have been building for millennia. And then there’s the geologic time of the basin and range, which extends back beyond human time. This aspect of time is something that can be experienced very uniquely with the combination of the natural environment and this artwork.”
… HOW HEIZER HELPED CHANGE SCULPTURE
“Extremely radical is his use of negative space. The other great work that’s in Nevada, “Double Negative” (pictured, a cleft cut into cliffs on either side of a ravine), is about a negative space as much as a positive space. That’s a real invention of Michael Heizer, the idea of a monumental absence. If you look at other monuments that have been built since, there are many other artists and architects now who have absorbed that vocabulary into the history of sculpture and architecture.”
(This interview has been condensed and edited.)