The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art and Nevadans for Cultural Preservation are pleased to present "Modern Desert Markings: An Homage to Las Vegas Area Land Art," an exhibition that uses contemporary perspectives to critique five historic works of Land Art located in the deserts of Southern Nevada. Curators Katie Hoffman and Hikmet Sidney Loe have selected ten artists from around the United States to produce new work inspired by foundational pieces of Land Art created by Walter De Maria (1935 - 2013), Michael Heizer (1944 -), and Jean Tinguely (1925 - 1991). Working in drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and more, the ten artists bring fresh and critical eyes to these celebrated works from the 1960s and ‘70s, using a diversity of approaches to address related issues such as land ownership, desert ecology, and tourism.
Hoffman and Loe note that Land Art works “are often ephemeral.” Artists like De Maria and Heizer moved outside the confines of the conventional art world by scraping and digging their artworks into the body of the earth itself. This method of working made the art harder to possess in a traditional sense, but it also left the works vulnerable to the erosive effects of weather, nature, and the carelessness of human visitors. Tinguely approached the issue of ephemerality in a more proactive way by taking his sculptures for "Study for the End of the World No. 2" out to Jean Dry Lake with the help of fellow artist Niki de Saint Phalle and blowing them up with explosives. Almost all of the historic works represented in this exhibition are known now only through photographs. As the curators put it: “With more than fifty years having elapsed since their creation, most have faded from both the landscape and collective consciousness.”
Hoffman, the president of Nevadans for Cultural Preservation, an organization that promotes awareness of the state’s heritage, was keenly attuned to the loss this represented. Wanting to bring the memory of the works back into the present she turned to Loe, an art historian whose work investigates interactions between perception and the landscape. Together they have assembled an exhibition that combines deep research into the context of the original pieces with a tangible acknowledgment that times have changed and the methods of the past can now be critically reevaluated through the lens of an advancing present.
“Formally acknowledging these historic artworks in the preservation world opens the door to these landscapes being considered for their cultural importance before being altered by future land use decisions,” Hoffman says. “Likewise, we hope the decisions of future Land Artists consider the implications of altering biomes and landscapes that have significance of their own.”
Their chosen artists have responded to Heizer, De Maria, and Tinguely with works that recognize the invasiveness of the older artists’ techniques while reaffirming their determination to bring viewers into the immediacy of the desert.
Jen Urso sees a correlation between Heizer’s self-assured destruction of the desert’s existing biome and other forms of colonizing the land. Her work celebrates the resistant regrowth of native plants within the crumbling trenches of his "Double Negative" (1969). Similarly, Mark Brest van Kempen looks at the natural resurgence that has helped to erase De Maria’s "Las Vegas Piece" (1969) as he embarks on the first stage of a larger study of environmental wounding and healing. Marisa J. Futernick and Rachelle Reichart expand these ideas about invasiveness to cover a wide audience as they contemplate our assumed right to access the landscape in the name of exploration or tourism. Paula Jacoby-Garrett continues their example by considering non-invasive methods of re-picturing Heizer’s "Rift 1" (1968). nicolas b jacobsen contrasts the localized materiality of the desert rock with objects that were imported there by European settlers: marble statues, bulldozers, and bricks.
Adriana Chavez poses the question of access from another perspective when they wonder what it means to single out a spot in a vast landscape and assert that it is the most important place to visit. What does it mean to say that a location is “there”? Keeva Lough builds an academic construct of thereness by creating a material representation of her research into "Study for the End of the World No. 2." Michael Dax Iacovone continues this line of inquiry by locating himself physically in Desert Valley, north of Las Vegas, where De Maria scraped his mile-wide square into the dry soil. Iacovone offers us a re-telling of his durational encounter with the site of the vanished "Las Vegas Piece," a testament to the late artist’s assertion that “the most beautiful thing is to experience a work of art over a period of time.“
Finally, Emily Budd takes her cues from Tinguely’s act of destruction—itself a reflection of the late artist’s feelings toward the 1962 Geneva Conference on Disarmament—and responds by creating new artifacts to “rebuild worlds through queer renewal and repair.”
"Modern Desert Markings" is also a living classroom where university students from Loe’s Special Topics in Art History: Land Art course will develop a growing body of artistic research that will take the form of altered maps. Her students will be encouraged to question the objectivity of mapping, asking who our maps are made for, who they exclude, and how place names are determined.
Loe adds: "it is vital for students to engage in experiential learning to explore the depths of a topic. We are grateful to the Department of Art, who provided course scheduling around our exhibition's timeline to have students work on ideas of mapping, land use, and place through artistic alterations."
The exhibition will feature two virtual symposia: the first a panel discussion with the exhibition curators, archaeologist Justin DeMaio, and Land Art scholar Kirsten Swensen; and the second a conversation with "Modern Desert Markings" artists about the process of creating their works and the experience of visiting the historic sites. The symposia will be held on April 6 and June 8, respectively. Both will start at 6 p.m. They are open for RSVP on the Nevadans for Cultural Preservation Website.
Funding for this exhibition is generously provided by Nevadans for Cultural Preservation, Nevada Arts Council, Nevada Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an Anonymous Donor.
Additional support was provided by the UNLV College of Fine Arts, the UNLV Department of Art, and the Nevada Museum of Art.
The exhibition features three historical artists—Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Jean Tinguely (with works photographed by Gianfranco Gorgoni)—and ten contemporary artists—Mark Brest van Kempen, Emily Budd, Adriana Chavez, Marisa J. Futernick, Michael Dax Iacovone, nicholas b jacobsen, Paula Jacoby-Garrett, Keeva Lough, Rachelle Reichert, and Jen Urso.
"Modern Desert Markings: An Homage to Las Vegas Area Land Art" will be on view at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV from March 14 - July 8, 2023, with an opening reception on March 24 from 5 - 8 p.m. Las Vegas poet Ms. AyeVee will perform at the reception from 6:30 p.m.
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Listen to interviews with Modern Desert Markings artists, curators, and more on The Art Box podcast!