This is the first essay of a series of five that I will be published at Jornal Público during this summer. It is based on the Travel Diary of my journey in the American Southwest. You can read it here.
Driving through the Great Basin desert, in Utah and Nevada, we visited 3 Earthworks. All three were sponsored by Virginia Dwan, the visionary gallerist and heiress of the 3M company - Minnesota, Mining & Manufacturing. It was at Dwan Gallery, in 1968, that the show Earth Works defined what would become sculpture in the 'expanded field'.
The temperature was over 45°C when we visited Michael Heizer's Double Negative. We arrived at noon, and addressed the visit as a scientific expedition. We went back and forth, like astronauts or divers. Heizer's artistic compulsions can be traced to many artifacts that we saw throughout our journey, as if he is tapping the American id: the tire marks at Bonneville Salt Flats, the monumentalization of extractive industries, the exhibition of human power over nature.
Route 50 was deemed the loneliest road in the US. It is an epithet that works both ways, as a derogatory and flattering qualifier. Driving a few miles West of Ely, one finds the small company town of Ruth, serving the Robinson copper mine. The mine slopes are so perfectly formed and artfully done, that I wondered if the workers, these artisans who worked with bulldozers, were the ones hired by the artist Michael Heizer to build his earthwork 'City'. Forgetting all the human and earth exploitation, it is easy to admire these earthworks formally. In the last decades the mine was bought and sold by various global companies, but throughout most of the C20 it was owned by the Guggenheim family.