New York

Michael Heizer

Knoedler & Company

Michael Heizer’s monumental renditions of paleolithic hand tools fabricated out of modified concrete, explore the fundamental structure of utilitarian form as determined by material and function. Just as his outdoor works carved out of the desert or deforested landscape represent the land as bound up with human necessity, his hand implements suggest human industry. Exploring form as determined by utility, Heizer locates the parameters within which material aquires meaning.

Hook (all works 1990), epitomizes the conceptual framework governing Heizer’s investigation. As with all of his “object sculptures,” this gray concrete cylindrical arc that tapers to a point at both ends is derived from an actual example of paleolithic handiwork. Its scale, however, is dramatically increased. To further detach it from practical utility, Heizer mounted the work on a welded steel armature, like an archaeological specimen. Similarly derived from a common artifact, Prismatic Flake #4, consists of a slab of white pigmented modified concrete that weighs three tons and exceeds 31 feet in length. The granular substratum of porous concrete exposed at the edges mimics a chipped blade of sharpened flint. A smooth propeller-shaped talisman Charmstone #4, was too large to hang vertically. One end was lifted toward the ceiling while the other rested upon the floor. In order to highlight its unwieldy size, Heizer documented this work with a special composite photograph, as if it were too enormous to be framed in a single view.

In choosing implements such as a hook and a blade, Heizer has accessed forms that transcend the limitations of any particular culture. A hook’s design remains the same today as it did 10,000 years ago, and it serves the Alaskan Eskimo as well as the Australian aborigine. As a cultural sign, the tool manifests the human capacity for conceptual thought and distinguishes humankind from other animals; hand tools enabled primitive man to make fire, construct shelter, weave clothing and cultivate soil. In short, they are necessary to human survival. By utilizing functional implements as his inspiration, Heizer’s object sculptures express the conceptual foundations of human existence.

Derived from utility, Heizer’s works have no true author. His object sculptures are the culmination of a human collectivity that overreaches the hermeticism of critical theory and academic formalism. Just as these object sculptures preempt critical discourse about formalism and expression, so too they subvert the very structure of the traditional exhibition space by virtue of their size. Installed in a gallery, his sculptures are physically as well as conceptually compromised. As in his Whitney Museum installation Dragged Mass Geometric, 1985, where scale was so unmanageable as to obstruct a total viewing, these “object sculptures” subvert the principles of exhibition in order to question the critical conventions governing art’s presentation and reception. Their conceptual integrity lies in their capacity to stand larger than the claustrophobic parameters of the art community.

Kirby Gookin