What’s behind the #ProtectCity campaign for artist Michael Heizer


Since 1972, land artist Michael Heizer has been obsessively reshaping a patch of desert in Nevada’s Garden Valley into a truly monumental work of land art. “City,” as the piece is titled, is 1 1/4 miles long and more than a quarter of a mile wide. In terms of size, it’s up there with Washington’s National Mall. In its proportions, it resembles an abstracted pre-Columbian pyramid complex.

Heizer owns the land on which he is building “City,” but the future of the land around it remains very much in question. And over the years, there’s been talk of developing it into a missile site, an oil-and-gas exploration site, and a location for a nuclear waste rail line.

Now a campaign called Protect Basin and Range aims to get the land around the piece some sort of environmental protection. Garden Valley, it turns out, isn’t just home to Heizer’s magnum opus. It also harbors desert ecologies and ancient rock art.


Some arts institutions are beginning to throw their weight behind this cause (which includes a Facebook petition in support of protecting the land). The L.A. County Museum of Art — which is home to Heizer’s massive rock art piece “Levitated Mass” — has a post on the importance of Heizer’s site on their Unframed blog. And the Gagosian Gallery, which represents Heizer, is also publicizing the effort. A #ProtectCity hashtag is circulating on Twitter.

As Hyperallergic points out, this isn’t the first time there has been an attempt to protect land in the area. Last fall, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to pass a bill that would restrict mining and energy exploration there, but the measure failed.

Other worthwhile reading includes the lengthy 2005 profile of Heizer in the New York Times, reported around the time that there had been talk of putting in that nuclear rail line. (Heizer at the time threatened to demolish the piece if the rail went through.)

In addition, the blog Google Sightseeing has a post that offers all kinds of interesting satellite aerials of Heizer’s piece, in the event that you want to get a sense of its incredible shape and scale.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.