The past few weeks have seen the unveiling of two desert cities: The first is a megalomaniac, mirrored glass metropolis that will likely never get built; the second is an earthen masterpiece that isn’t really a city.
After 50 years of work, City is finally complete in a remote Nevada valley. Designed by Michael Heizer, who pioneered a movement called land art in the 1960s, it is a colossal complex of mounds, rounded ravines, and geometric sculptures.
City can only be traversed on foot, with none of the paraphernalia that typically populates complexes of this magnitude, namely walkways, lookouts, or even directional signs. It cost $40 million to build, and when it opens on September 2, it will accept only six visitors per day.
Heizer has been drawing inspiration from the Nevada desert for decades, starting with Double Negative—a 50-foot-deep, 1,500-foot-long trench dug out of the earth.
But City carries different proportions. At 1.5 miles long and a half-mile wide, it’s been described as the largest contemporary artwork in the world, reminiscent of Native American mound sites or Egyptian temples. It may not be a city in the strict sense—but it could well serve as the foundation for one.
The site is anchored by two monuments—a triptych of concrete wedges that cast dramatic shadows on the ocher landscape, and a concrete-encased earthwork akin to an ancient Egyptian tomb. Almost everything else is made from local materials like rocks, sand, and gravel, designed to outlast humanity.
“My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” Heizer said in a 2016 New Yorker profile about his project. “Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my City sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”