After half a century, American artist Michael Heizer has completed his secretive project in the Nevada desert. The enigmatic concrete megastructure is open to public as of September.
The New York Times has announced this milestone in August, with a beguiling article and a hypnotic interactive presentation of the isolated site. Unmissable.
The secret is out, the construction is complete and any visitors can, well, drop by (after a three-hour drive north of Las Vegas). But the artist won’t offer any clues about the megasculpture’s meaning.
No sound bites, no tweets. We have to find our own interpretation of his work.
Concrete utopia – modernist architecture for the people
I cannot but think of all the brutalist architecture and sculptures that surrounded my entire childhood and youth in (Former) Yugoslavia. (NB: we can drop the “Former” tag. There isn’t a subsequent Yugoslavia. It’s over & out.)
In 2018, the MOMA held a major exhibition about architecture in Yugoslavia,1948-1980, brilliantly entitled “Toward a Concrete Utopia”.
Similar to Heizer’s work, entitled “The City”, the construction of concrete cities in Yugoslavia also began on sand – where New Belgrade now stands, ever expanding.
Unlike Heizer’s work, those megastructures were built for people to live in. And to live in them quite comfortably. What started as a natural desert environment turned into parks and playgrounds over time.
Concrete megastructures are bold statements
The concrete buildings and key monuments from that period were also replete with meaning for the local population. Their essence was to boldly promote the post-WW2 Socialist order. And for that goal, no cost was too high.
We never knew the real cost of those megastructures – in contrast to Michael Heizer’s work. I can now try to calculate those long-ago costs retroactively, in today’s money, based on his meticulously accounted investments in materials and labour for “The City”.
Could we then, in a similar way, reverse-engineer the meaning of Heizer’s work? Extrapolate what he is trying to tell us from similarities and differences with far-off, yet comparable endeavours?
He spent 50 years planning and constructing this work of art. He must have had a clear idea why. I wonder what that idea was.