Desert Companion

Books: Round and Round With Michael Heizer

A new book takes a deep look at the acclaimed, iconic — and cantankerous — Nevada artist

September saw the publication of Michael Heizer: The Once and Future Monuments (The Monacelli Press, $45), in which one of Nevada’s more notable writers, William L. Fox, takes stock of the most significant land artist associated with the state. You’ve probably heard of Heizer’s Double Negative, his dug-out installation near Moapa, and City, his massive, secretive installation out in basin and range country. But there is much more to the artist, and to the land-art movement, which Fox’s sweeping book  ably details in spite of Heizer’s legendarily cranky uncooperativeness. Notwithstanding the material’s high intellectual thread-count, because of the advanced-art context in which Heizer must be considered, The Once and Future Monuments is accessible, thanks to its easygoing, anecdotal style.

So, an anecdote: Pictured here is Circular Surface Planar Displacement, which Heizer created in 1969 on a dry-lake bed near Jean. Land artist Walter de Maria had previously drawn on that surface with chalk lines. Heizer wanted to attempt something similarly epic, but in a different, more demanding way. In the book, Heizer’s longtime pilot G. Robert Deiro recalls the scene:

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“So Michael took a big 350cc motorcycle and said, ‘Go up and watch me.’ So I got in the airplane, I flew up, and he went out there and drew circles, huge circles, on the dry lake, rocked over, cranking the motorcycle. He drew a big one and rolled off. He drew a couple more.” Photos were taken until Heizer waved the plane back in. “When we got the pictures back ... (t)he circles are round, they’re not distorted. And he didn’t use a string or tape or any other assistance. I mean, this is freehand drawing, I don’t know how he made them touch tangentially like that, and to be such perfect circles, going at speeds up to a hundred miles an hour.”

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