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Michael Heizer

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Michael Heizer
Double Negative, 1969, Nevada
Born (1944-11-04) November 4, 1944 (age 79)
EducationSan Francisco Art Institute
Known forLand art, sculpture

Michael Heizer (born 1944) is an American land artist specializing in large-scale and site-specific sculptures.[1] Working largely outside the confines of the traditional art spaces of galleries and museums, Heizer has redefined sculpture in terms of size, mass, gesture, and process. A pioneer of 20th-century land art or Earthworks movement, he is widely recognized for sculptures and environmental structures made with earth-moving equipment, which he began creating in the American West in 1967. He currently lives and works in Hiko, Nevada,[2] and New York City.[3]


Heizer began his artistic career in New York in 1966 with a series of geometric canvases painted with PVA latex.[4] The paintings that would follow, characterized by non-traditionally shaped canvases, demonstrate Heizer's early exploration of positive and negative forms; such harmonies of presence and absence, matter and space, are essential to his art. In Trapezoid Painting (1966) and Track Painting (1967), he emphasizes the perimeters of raw canvases by painting them black, while the white interiors are perceived as negative spaces. These hard-edged "displacement paintings" parallel the immense geometries he achieves when moving earth. The slate grey contours of U Painting (1975), for example, anticipate the shapes of the depressions and angular mounds that appear in one of his latest projects City.[1][5]

In the late 1960s, Heizer left New York City for the deserts of California and Nevada, where he began making his first "negative" sculptures.[2] These works were created by removing earth to shape subterranean negative forms directly into desert floor. Completed in 1967, North, East, South, West, consisted of several geometrically shaped holes dug in the Sierra Nevada. The following year Heizer completed Nine Nevada Depressions, a series of large negative sculptures located primarily on dry lakes throughout the state, Jean Dry Lake, Black Rock Desert and Massacre Dry Lake, near Vya, Nevada[6] among them. In 1969, Heizer made the series Primitive Dye Paintings, in which white lime powder and concentrated aniline dyes were spread over the dry desert landscape, covering large areas that, when viewed from the air, formed amorphous, organic shapes. The culmination of this critical early period was the creation of Double Negative in 1969, a project for which he displaced 240,000 tons of rock in the Nevada desert, cutting two enormous trenches—each one 50-feet-deep and 30-feet-wide and together spanning 1,500 feet—at the eastern edge of Mormon Mesa near Overton, Nevada.[7]

Heizer has since continued his exploration of the dynamics between positive forms and negative space. His Adjacent, Against, Upon (1976) juxtaposes three large granite slabs in different relationships to cast concrete forms; the 30-50 ton granite slabs were quarried in the Cascade Mountain Range and transported by barge and train to Myrtle Edwards Park.[8] For Displaced/Replaced Mass (1969/1977), later installed outside the Marina del Rey, California, home of Roy and Carol Doumani, he planted four granite boulders of different sizes from the High Sierra into lid-less concrete boxes in the earth so that the tops of the rocks are roughly level with the ground.[9] For a 1982 work at the former IBM Building in New York, Heizer sheared off the top of a large rock and cut grooves into the surface before setting it on supports hidden within a stainless steel structure. Designed as a fountain, the boulder appears to float over running water. He called it Levitated Mass, a title he would use again in future.[9] Commissioned by the president of the Ottawa Silica Company, the Effigy Tumuli earthwork in Illinois is composed of five abstract animal earthworks reclaiming the site of an abandoned surface coal mine along the Illinois River; the shapes (1983–85)—a frog, a water strider, a catfish, a turtle, and a snake—reflect the environment of the site, which overlooks the river. In 1983, Heizer received a Guggenheim Fellowship[10] for Fine Arts.

Levitated Mass (2012) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In 2012, Heizer completed Levitated Mass (2012). On permanent installation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Levitated Mass is a massive white, diorite boulder (21.5 feet wide and 21.5 feet high) that sits atop a 456-foot-long sloped walkway, allowing viewers to experience the weight of the rock as they walk through the empty space below. It took eleven nights, from February 28 to March 10, 2012, to move the 340-ton rock from Jurupa Valley to the museum. The installation is situated in a field of polished concrete slices, set at a slight angle between the Resnick Pavilion and Sixth Street.[11] Heizer opened the exhibit on June 24, 2012.[12] A feature documentary,[13] also named Levitated Mass, was directed and edited by the filmmaker Doug Pray. It details the making of the sculpture as it relates to Heizer's career while portraying the boulder's 105-mile journey through Los Angeles and the public's reaction to its installation. Other recent public artworks by Michael Heizer include Tangential Circular Negative Line in Mauvoisin, Switzerland, commissioned by Fondation Air&Art directed by Jean Maurice Varone, as well as Collapse (1967/2016) and Compression Line (1968/2016) at Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland.[14]

Collapse (1967/2016) at Glenstone in 2023

In the early 1970s, Heizer began work on City, an enormous complex in the rural desert of Lincoln County, Nevada.[15] His work on the project continues to this day, supported by the Dia Art Foundation through a grant from the Lannan Foundation. Limited public access to City began in 2022.

A campaign to have the Basin and Range area around City designated as a national monument to protect it from development took place, and a group of American museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and the Walker Art Center, have joined to draw public attention to a petition urging preservation of the area.[16][17] In July 2015, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation (using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906) creating the Basin and Range National Monument on 704,000 acres in Lincoln and Nye counties, an area including Heizer's City.[18][19]

Heizer's artworks are represented in museum collections and public spaces worldwide.

Major permanent commissions[edit]

  • Tangential Circular Negative Line (2012), Mauvoisin, Switzerland, an Air&Art Foundation commission directed by Jean Maurice Varone
  • Levitated Mass (2012), Resnick Pavilion North Lawn at LACMA, Los Angeles, California
  • Effigy Tumuli (1985), Buffalo State Park, Ottawa, Illinois
  • 45 Degrees, 90 Degrees, 180 Degrees (1984), Rice University, Houston, Texas
  • Levitated Mass (1982), 590 Madison Avenue, New York. EJM Equities Collection, New York
  • North, East, South, West (1982), 5th and Flower Streets, Los Angeles[20]

Other works[edit]


In 1968, Heizer was included in Earth Works, the influential group show at Virginia Dwan's gallery, and then in the Whitney Museum painting annual in 1969, where his contribution was a huge photograph of a dye painting in the desert.[22] For his first one-person show, at the Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich in 1969, he removed 1,000 tons of earth in a conical shape to create Munich Depression. In 1977, he was included in documenta 6, Kassel. Major exhibitions of his work have been staged at institutions such as the Museum Folkwang, Essen (1979), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1984), and Fondazione Prada, Milan (1996).[23] Recent gallery exhibitions have been held at Gagosian Gallery.[24]

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Selected group exhibitions[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kimmelman, Michael (August 19, 2022). "It Was a Mystery in the Desert for 50 Years - In a remote Nevada valley, the artist Michael Heizer's astonishing megasculpture is finally revealed". The New York Times. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Michael Heizer National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  3. ^ "Michael Heizer's Monumental "City" | The New Yorker". The New Yorker. August 22, 2016.
  4. ^ "Michael Heizer: New Paintings and Sculpture, Beverly Hills, November 5–December 21, 2016 | Gagosian". April 12, 2018.
  5. ^ "Michael Heizer: Altars, 555 West 24th Street, New York, May 9–July 2, 2015 | Gagosian". April 12, 2018.
  6. ^ Michael Heizer, Isolated Mass/Circumflex (#2) (1968-72) Center for Land Use Interpretation, Los Angeles.
  7. ^ Christopher Knight (June 3, 2012), Art review: 'Ends of the Earth' brings Land art indoors Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Michael Heizer, Adjacent, Against, Upon (1976) Archived July 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Seattle Public Art
  9. ^ a b Jori Finkel (May 25, 2012), Michael Heizer's calling is set in stone Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ "Michael Heizer - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". www.gf.org. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  11. ^ Christopher Knight (June 22, 2012), Review: LACMA's new hunk 'Levitated Mass' has some substance Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ Deborah Vankin (September 22, 2011), LACMA set to roll away the stone Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ The Boulder (Doug Pray/Jamie Patricof)
  14. ^ "Michael Heizer | Glenstone".
  15. ^ Keats, Jonathon (September 1, 2022). "Michael Heizer Took 50 Years To Make An Artwork As Big As A City, But It Might Take Another 5,000 Years To See The Point Of It". Forbes. Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  16. ^ Tennent, Scott (March 18, 2015). "Protect Michael Heizer's "City"". LACMA. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  17. ^ Burns, Charlotte (March 18, 2015). "Museums unite in campaign to save massive land art project". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  18. ^ Steve Tetreault & Henry Brean, A done deal, Obama to create Basin and Range monument, Las Vegas Review-Journal (July 9, 2015).
  19. ^ Mascaro, Lisa (December 20, 2016). "The artist and the senator: One built a desert masterpiece, the other a Nevada legacy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  20. ^ Christopher Knight, A rock star is born–or is it?, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2012
  21. ^ Sturm, Daniel (November 12, 2003). "The disturbing remains of 'This Equals That'"[permanent dead link]. City Pulse. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  22. ^ Michael Kimmelman (February 6, 2005), Art's Last, Lonely Cowboy The New York Times.
  23. ^ Michael Heizer Archived 2012-06-28 at the Wayback Machine Dia Art Foundation.
  24. ^ "Michael Heizer | Gagosian". April 12, 2018.
  25. ^ a b Heizer, Michael gagosian.com
  26. ^ Aspen Art Museum, July 4, 2012, exhibition[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ Observatoire du Land Art, Feb 29 - March 10, 2012, transatlantic action
  28. ^ Greg Kucera Gallery http://www.gregkucera.com/_images/daws/daws_life-on-the-farm-heizer_web.jpg

External links[edit]