Michael Heizer at Gagosian Le Bourget
02 November 2018 14:49
Great art doesn’t need to be explained. You know it when you see it. It leaps onto you, like a wild animal. You may forget the details but you will never forget the feeling, and it changes you forever. It’s akin to a mystical experience and extremely difficult to find.
I was struck down the moment I laid eyes on Michael Heizer’s Slot Mass at Gagosian Gallery Le Bourget. Though made of humble material—metal and stone, it is poetic, powerful and that most rare quality: pure. Somehow this formation of two deep graded grooves clad in metal, chiseled through the gallery’s concrete floor, overshadowed by a giant boulder apparently plucked off a rocky mountain, has the remarkable ability to elicit emotion—to actually move you, and to also transport you to the American West, the myth of the American West, a myth that is real.
The work, originally installed on the California- Nevada border in 1968, mutely announces its lineage; it is undeniably American—the best part of American culture, its directness, the grand gesture of it, and its utter, effortless, elegance. The word “Sublime” echoes insistently about it. A classic example of Heizer’s unique “un-sculpture” or “sculpture in reverse”, Slot Mass is not just about a sculpture’s negative space, but Heizer’s original medium of removal, creating the negative and hewing it from the earth, and even more shockingly, leaving it to deteriorate. This integrity, the rejection of commercialism, seemingly at odds with American culture, yet not at all, is part of its power. A whiff of the American West wafts through the hall as an incredible vastness engulfs you and takes you beyond the confines of the gallery walls, into a limitless expanse. You commune with nature and the divine. Heizer has created the Sublime.
Beyond Slot Mass is the equally impressive Cilia, a rectangular well carved out of the ground, with metal slats peppering its sides like manic diving boards recalling the cilia of a cell. Off to the side is a room documenting Heizer’s work starting in the late 1960s as well as the Scoria Negative Wall Sculpture, another rough rock suspended in a metal frame set into the wall, like a religious icon.
In the mezzanine, are two sets of paintings. A triptych of two-toned geometric canvases from the 1970s and a recent (2017) triptych of irregular curvilinear canvases in white outlined in black. You expect to be disappointed after Slot Mass and Cilia, but no. Again so simple, yet so startlingly perfect. From Slot Mass to the paintings, Heizer sustains his greatness. Never does he falter—the ultimate cowboy artist. Laconic, intense, independent and cool as his work, there is no need to explain. His work speaks for itself and also, for its maker.
Featured image credit: Cilia, 1968–1990 (foreground) and Slot Mass, 1968–2017 (background)
© Michael Heizer 2018. Photo by Thomas Lannes. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.