Michael Heizer

Exhibitions of work by Land artists are usually limited by necessity to photographic documentation, drawings, and related projects. However, with Michael Heizer’s ambitious recent exhibition, which contained six site-specific works and was accompanied by a monograph edited by Germano Celant, the Fondazione Prada attempted the impossible: to present the physical grandeur of Heizer’s work within the enclosed rooms of the Fondazione.

Remarkably, they were successful. Two enormous graffitied stone masses, Stele n.1 and Stele n.2 (all works 1996), meter upon meter in size, and ton upon ton in weight, were transported from the Nevada mountains and framed within gigantic iron beams. The floor of another room was also raised, allowing Heizer to dig one of his trenches, Negative Line, a work recalling pieces he created in the late ’60s in the American desert. The show was at once impressive and extremely disquieting, in part because the work’s cold geometry was untempered by the atmosphere of a natural site. Also, to the European eye, works of this scale remain problematic: the monumentality of American Land art clearly distinguishes it from its European counterpart, which tends to center around the idea of walks or journeys.

The strength of this work, however, derives from more than its large scale. With his use of graffiti on rock, Heizer strongly evoked the archaeological (significantly, his father was one of the foremost scholars of Olmec culture). The trenches also suggested the remains, in negative, of ancient, mysterious constructions—fragments of vanished cultures. While the size of the Earthworks may be comparable to that of the indoor pieces, the open-air works are left to the action of nature, decaying and eventually disappearing in an entropic process the artist himself designed. Thus, in Heizer’s oeuvre context remains fundamental.

Marco Meneguzzo