And while the awe-inspiring work is still in progress today, viewers will have an opportunity to see what goes into such large-scale production at the Nevada Museum of Art’s “Unlocking an Archive: Michael Heizer and Walter de Maria” exhibit opening Saturday.
The collection, which was donated in January to the NMA by the artists’ close friend G. Robert Deiro, will showcase documents, photographs, posters and sketches of the creative process behind the popular late ’60s and early ’70s environmental art movement.
“Michael Heizer and Walter de Maria are some of the most iconic land artists of the 21st century,” said Ann Wolfe, curator of exhibitions and collections at NMA. “This exhibit will give a glimpse into the process of the planning stages of those outdoor sculptures.”
This exhibit, Wolfe explained, is part of NMA’s newly added Center for Art Environment gallery, which is focused on the awareness of creative interactions between people and their environment — either natural, man-made or virtual.
“The earth arts movement manifested itself from a rejection of museums and galleries,” Wolfe said. “Artists began turning toward the outdoors, mainly the American Southwest.”
Pioneering this desert art-scape were Heizer and de Maria, who were both friends and contemporaries, focusing a lot of their work here in Nevada.
De Maria, a sculptor and composer, is best known for his project “Lightning Field” in New Mexico, where 400 stainless steel rods arranged in a large grid help conduct a lightning show during storms. He had originally slated the piece for Nevada.
“Heizer actually brought out de Maria to this area,” Wolfe said. “Nevada is a sort of birthplace of earthworks.”
De Maria’s original sketches for “Lightning Show,” which are drawn on a paper napkin, will be on display for the exhibit, Wolfe said.
Heizer’s notable work includes “Double Negative,” a 1,500-foot trench cut into the side of a mesa in Nevada. Renderings and preparation materials, including Heizer’s hard hat worn during installation and construction, will be on display.
The entire collection, which includes materials spanning seven or eight projects from the two artists, represents the NMA’s goal for the Center for Art Environment, Wolfe said.
“We want to support not just the display of art, but the process of art making,” Wolfe said. “This exhibit will really help to show what an artist thought process, the creative process, is all about.”
This exhibit also marks the first time many of these materials will be displayed to the public, mainly due in part to the donator, Deiro, who insisted that the pieces remain in Nevada, Wolfe explained.
“G. Robert Deiro really recognized the significance of the materials he owned,” Wolfe said, explaining that Deiro actually helped both artists by flying them around to select spots for their works. “He (Deiro) is a long-time resident of Nevada and he felt they should remain in the state.”
The exhibit opens Saturday and runs until Sept. 13. Admission prices are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and $1 for children six to 12 years old. Children ages 5 and under are free.
The NMA is located at 160 W. Liberty St. in Reno.