Late capitalism’s production of cultural objects involves commodities making other commodities whether as art installation in an urban art gallery or as the remote desert site documented by photography, made now entrepreneurial for tourism as well as confounding the public policy for nuclear waste. Such land art as accumulative representation is of a long term Minsky cycle in extreme space and time fixing some variables close to zero value. Even appearing as a static store of value, capital circulates in deeper circuits that resemble a surface or territory for the value-form.
The formation of investment capital as skyscraper development or the “turd in the plaza” of monumental sculpture in its setback public space is always a cultural product whether it refers to the contradiction of the experienced environments or the anomalous obstruction to the experience of the small urban space. Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc represents the acme of the urban conflict among site-specific artwork, public money for such artwork, and a capitalist legal system.
In the 1970-80s “Earth Art” and large scale sculpture became prominent and even environmentally performative and in the 21st Century now have become intersectionally problematic in their confrontation with the dominant mode of production. As an idealist contrast, such artworks have become elegiac with the death of Robert Smithson while doing aerial surveying for his final piece Amarillo Ramp.
For example Walter DeMaria’s artworks like Lightning Field exist primarily not as actual phenomenological experiences but as imaginary hypotheses triggered by media like photographic documents, among other materials including a full page image in Rolling Stone magazine.
This artwork is not as environmentally intrusive as work by Michael Heizer or Robert Smithson, but is representative of a “movement” whose cultural production is synonymous with the financialization of artworks in late capitalism whether stored in freeports or remotely located in deserts, whose iconology s networked among galleries, museums, mass media and the ecotourism site itself.
The spectacle of artworks and their audience is a mediated set of public relations that resembles the mass scale mystification of social relations and is no different an ideological narrative than election denialism. The artistic myth of genius becomes easier with a culture industry devoted to its financialization at the scale of the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, or the Disneyfication of everything.
The Lightning Field (1977) is a land art work in Catron County, New Mexico, by sculptor Walter De Maria. It consists of 400 stainless steel poles with solid, pointed tips, arranged in a rectangular 1 mile × 1 kilometre grid array. It is maintained by the Dia Art Foundation as one of 11 locations and sites they manage.
The Lightning Field (1977), by the American sculptor Walter De Maria, is a work of Land Art situated in a remote area of the high desert of western New Mexico. It is comprised of 400 polished stainless-steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer. The poles—two inches in diameter and averaging 20 feet, 7½ inches in height—are spaced 220 feet apart and have solid, pointed tips that define a horizontal plane. A sculpture to be walked in as well as viewed, The Lightning Field is intended to be experienced over an extended period of time. A full experience of The Lightning Field does not depend upon the occurrence of lightning, and visitors are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the field, especially during sunset and sunrise. In order to provide this opportunity, Dia offers overnight visits during the months of May through October.
Commissioned and maintained by Dia Art Foundation, The Lightning Field exemplifies Dia’s commitment to supporting art projects whose nature and scale exceed the limits normally available within the traditional museum or gallery.
Real estate values, like property values are the actual product for De Maria’s artwork called Broken Kilometer allowing the gallery site and building to be subsidized in a cultural district as well as appreciated financially as a prized location. In that instance it is purely about uninhabited and even rarely visited rents no different than condominiums as investment and in the case of Trump and Kushner, vehicles for the social and political capital of citizenship.
The historical narrative arc from large scale monuments like the Plains of Nazca to such recent artwork is mediated not simply as academic and institutional artworld activity sometimes referred to as “conceptual art”. The contradictory problems arise in the status conferral as “monumental” cultural products worthy of preservation and conservation not to mention their amplification as even detached from their authenticity.
In the case of Michael Heizer or James Turrell, the environmental artwork site enters the market for ecotourism, while also serving as an object for cultural critique in the 21st Century as an intersectional transgressor on indigenous peoples’ land.
Indeed, City was built on Western Shoshone land, says Alicia Harris, an Assiniboine professor of Native American art history at the University of Oklahoma. In 2020, she submitted a PhD dissertation entitled “Homescapes: Indigenous Land Art and Public Memory,” in which she argued that works by the likes of Heizer, Robert Smithson, and Walter de Maria — despite being cast as trenchant critiques of the commoditization of galleries and the New York-centered art world in the ’70s — reaffirm the structure of settler colonialism. “Land art made by settlers can’t function as a wholesale rejection of capitalism and the market economy, because the land used to create those works was still considered ‘property,’” she wrote.
Recalling the first time she saw the site on which Michael Heizer’s City would eventually be built in 1973, the artist’s ex-wife Barbara Heizer said that there was “nothing there but me, Michael, a few survey markers and a lot of wind.” Her words reflected an essential truth about the project that Heizer repeated at the time: that there was no reason why he had chosen to create the work in this high desert stretch, located about three hours northwest of Las Vegas, other than the important fact that land there happened to be abundant and cheap. City would be built on land acquired with a loan from the late dealer Virginia Dwan, and at least at the inception of Heizer’s undertaking, it was a work completely divorced from its surroundings. Around the time Heizer landed on the Garden Valley plot on which he would live and labor for the next five decades, he had his eye on real estate in six western states, purchasing “remote land as raw material.” (Later, he would repeat about the Nevada and the Great Basin region from which he hails, “This land is in my blood.”)
Nothingness haunts Michael Heizer, White land artists of his generation, and City — his one-and-a-half-mile-long by half-a-mile-wide magnum opus in Garden Valley, Nevada, which officially opened to visitors earlier this month. The colossal structure, a labyrinth of mounds and pyramids, took half a century to construct, an arduous process set into motion by the artist when he was just 27. Despite much enthusiasm in the press over its recent unveiling, City has been seen by only a select few. Heizer was notoriously secretive while creating it, and only six people per day have been allowed to go since its opening. (Regular tickets are $150 and $100 for students and free for residents of Lincoln, Nye, and White Pine counties. All slots through the end of the year have been booked.) Yet, the work has already become wrapped up in a sort of mythological lore that portrays it as a miracle amidst desiccated nothingness — a characterization that some Indigenous artists and thinkers more attuned to the historical processes of settler colonialism take issue with.
Michael Heizer’s monumental work on City began in 1972 in Garden Valley, Nevada—which lies almost directly north of the quiet community of Alamo to the tune of about 60 miles. City, by Michael Heizer, is out in the middle of Nevada’s mighty Great Basin—with Wayne E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area to the north, and the Mt. Irish Wilderness to the south. Other than that, it’s wide open in this part of the state and falls within the boundary of Basin and Range National Monument
Despite having worked on this large-scale land art project for nearly 50 years, his work here manages to continue to this day. Like his work at Double Negative, Michael Heizer’s City is designed on a massive scale, spanning a little more than a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, with some parts of the sculpture standing as tall as 80 feet high. Made from dirt, sand, rocks, and concrete, City was formed in five phases, each containing its own substructures within.
Over nearly 50 years City has cost nearly 25 million dollars to build, funded mainly through the Dia Art Foundation and Lannan Foundation. Though City is surrounded by state and federally-owned land, the chunk of land City is situated on is privately owned by Heizer.
The Triple Aught Foundation has created a $30 million endowment to care for City in perpetuity, and moving forward; it will be overseen by a coalition of major art institutions, including Glenstone Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the New York Museum of Modern Art.
City Michael Heizer Tickets
A magnificent land art installation more than a half-century in the making, City will open September 2022. Because Heizer fears crowds will dilute the experience, six tickets will be offered per day, and only on some days during certain times of the year. Tickets are $150 per person and will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Once visitors arrive in Alamo, NV, they’ll be picked up and allowed to explore City for a few hours, then driven back before dark.
Editor’s Note: The 2022 season has sold out and closed, but please consider applying for tickets beginning Jan 2, 2023. In your query, please include the number of guests in your party (up to 6 people), a preferred reservation date between May 16th and November 9th, 2023, and several alternative reservation dates. Reservations are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Please note that reservations should not be considered final until you receive confirmation via email.
It remains to be seen or experienced what an actual cultural revolution’s avant-garde vision of a post-revolutionary city can be when the colonizing forces of reaction and revisionism reign, even held in sharp contrast.
In their paper, Filip Buekens and J. P. Smit have focused on the theoretical problems that existing definitions of art institutions, such as those proposed by George Dickie and Arthur Danto entail, primarily since their “account[s] of what confers upon objects their institutional character does not fit well with current work on institutions and social ontology” (53). Thus, as these researchers highlight, the “[i]nstitutional accounts of art, although less popular now than in the 1970’s that were the heydays of social constructionism, seem increasingly less plausible once one begins to apply insights from contemporary accounts of social institutions as they are studied in the emerging field of social ontology (Searle 1995, 2010; Tuomela 2013; Epstein 2015; Guala 2016) and in economics (Pratten 2015)” (53).
Nevertheless, Buekens and Smit also argue that, “[w]hile institutional accounts of art may be less popular today (but see Fokt 2013, 2017 for an interesting overview of recent developments and the many meanings of the concept of artworld), some important lessons can be drawn from the way it connected a human practice, the objects produced and the process whereby the products were created” (56). This is related to the growing recognition that “institutions are systems of interconnected rules that direct and shape preferences of participating agents in achieving shared goals – goals that exist independently of the kind of coordination required to achieve the goals” (58). Therefore, as this study explores, “[i]nstitutions, as ingredients or constituents of the artworld, solve obvious or subtle coordination problems” (59).
Consequently, as Buekens and Smit propose, “[i]t remains an open question whether the concept of artworld was more than a fancy signifier, which obscured rather than illuminated the important and genuine institutional dimension of art and artistic activity” (65).
Socially necessary, cultural labor has abstract and concrete time and labor-power. It may be constructed as both a solitary, artisanal quest and the production of highly mediated surplus value remain contestable in the commodity system of late capitalism.
In an artworld, the aesthetic division of labor is no different in the formation of cultural capital. Digital technology has yet to alter those material contradictions especially as artwork seeks new financialized forms like the NFT.
It’s better to destroy than create what’s unnecessary. Jean Rougeul in 8 ½.
Roden Crater, located in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, is an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space artist James Turrell. Representing the culmination of the artist’s lifelong research in the field of human visual and psychological perception, Roden Crater is a controlled environment for the experiencing and contemplation of light. It takes its place within the tradition of American landscape art that began in the 1960s, requiring a journey to visit the work in the remote desert with truly dark night skies. While minimally invasive to the external natural landscape, internally the red and black cinder has been transformed into special engineered spaces where the cycles of geologic and celestial time can be directly experienced. It will constitute a truly culminating phenomenon in world art.
Turrell’s immersive work with how we see light in varying contexts, both natural and created, led him to conceive an artwork so remote from manmade distractions, and at a high altitude so naturally conducive to unlimited sightlines of the vast sky, that it could provide a singular experience. After an extensive search, he found his ideal conditions at Roden Crater. Since acquiring the dormant cinder cone in 1977, Turrell has fashioned Roden Crater into a site containing tunnels and apertures that open onto pristine skies, capturing light directly from the sun in daylight hours, and the planets and stars at night. Indeed it is more akin to the communally developed sites of ancient Incas, than to the conceptions of any individual one can think of in modern times.
Roden Crater is a gateway to the contemplation of light, time and landscape. It is the magnum opus of James Turrell’s career, a work that, besides being a monument to land art, functions as a naked eye observatory of earthly and celestial events that are both predictable and continually in flux. Constructed to last for centuries to come, Roden Crater links the physical and the ephemeral, the objective with the subjective, in a transformative sensory experience.
The first major phase of construction included the movement of over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to shape the Crater Bowl and the construction of the 854′ East Tunnel. Six spaces were completed, including two of the most difficult, the shaping of the Crater Bowl and the Alpha (East) Tunnel. The Sun & Moon Chamber, East Portal, and the Crater’s Eye, are joined by the Alpha (East) Tunnel and a connecting tunnel to the Crater Bowl. When complete, the project will contain 24 viewing spaces and six tunnels.
As construction on Roden Crater is ongoing, it is presently closed to the public. Fundraising is underway to complete the construction and open Roden Crater to the public. Please consider supporting the work’s completion by becoming a Friend of Roden Crater.