What is art? Well, this, for starters. You mean this … oversize rock? Yes. Oh, perhaps not at this exact moment. Right now it’s just a boulder of local limestone, shaved flat by one of the world’s largest diamond saws and getting a little love from a workman. But scan the background. Those rock stacks? They’re a glimpse of this boulder’s artistic future.
This is an in vitro look at Seven Magic Mountains, a project by acclaimed Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone: seven such boulder stacks, each 25-30 feet high, the rocks all fluorescing in garish colors. It will open May 11 in a patch of raw desert along the far southern reaches of Las Vegas Boulevard, out near Ivanpah Valley. (He chose the site in part for its proximity to the Jean dry lake bed, where artists Michael Heizer and Jean Tinquely created some noted work in the 1970s.) Sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art, in Reno, and the Art Production Fund, it will be up for two years, and, it’s hoped, give Las Vegas a bit of traction in the worlds of land art and international cultural tourism.
So what’s going on here? Other than asserting that the project “elicits continuities and similarities between human and nature, artificial and natural, then and now,” Rondinone hasn’t said much. Still, you can grasp some of the resonant betweenness he means. The stacks loom monumentally, yet don’t look much steadier than a Jenga tower. They will gesture obviously to the stony, geological authenticity of the desert, but also to the transient flash of Las Vegas, and somewhat less obviously to the meditative rock totems piled by spiritual tourists at sacred sites. However resolutely they’ll seem rooted to this land, you know it required a years-long bureaucratic headache to park them here. (Surely an impressive feat of performance art itself.) If you want to tackle the question What is art?, this is a good place to begin. Now you can drive right up, snap a selfie, then get the conversation going.