7 Far-Flung Artworks Over 100 Miles from a Major City

More often than not, for those of us living in a big city, a work of art we’d like to see is a hop, skip, and a subway ride away. But some powerful and profound pieces can be found much farther afield, where they engage with nature, politics, and the relationship between the two. From iconic land art perched on the edge of the Painted Desert to a satellite caught in perpetual orbit around the Earth, we bring you a selection of works that are located 100 miles or more from a major city (which, for the purposes of this article, means a population above 150,000 people).



James Turrell, Roden Crater


Nearest Major Population Center:

Phoenix, Arizona (144 miles)

Turrell is among the world’s most famous conceptual artists and for good reason—his works are transcendental and transfixing explorations of light itself. His 2013 retrospective at Guggenheim, which saw the artist bathe the rotunda in rich, oscillating colors, was the most attended show in the museum’s history, attracting more than 470,000 visitors. It is likely that far fewer will have the chance to visit Roden Crater, the culmination of Turrell’s career-long examination of human perception. Located in the Painted Desert region of northern Arizona and housed within a cinder cone from an extinct volcano, the artwork is a giant, interconnected observatory through which visitors—in total isolation from the world—can experience the passage of time through the changing sky. Turrell flew a single-engine plane across the southwest during years of scouting before settling on the perfect spot to create the work in 1974. Right now, isolation is only one issue facing would-be visitors: The work is closed to the public as funds are raised to finish its construction.



Trevor Paglen, The Last Pictures


Nearest Major Population Center: 

Planet Earth (22,369 miles)

Trevor Paglen - The Last Pictures Project Video

Look up at the night sky and you might catch a glimpse of Paglen’s The Last Pictures (2012)—though it’d be impossible to know for certain. To create the work, the artist went through nearly five years of laborious research and interviews with scientists, artists, philosophers, and anthropologists to assemble 100 images that—in some way—capture our contemporary moment. The images were then micro-etched onto a disc and attached to the satellite EchoStar XVI, which will orbit in sync with the Earth and above its equator in the next decade. There, along with all the other satellites that have gone on beyond their lifespan, it will be caught in the planet’s gravity from now until the unforeseeable future. “The notional framework is to create a collection of images for the far future, a future where there is no evidence of human civilization on Earth’s surface,” Paglen told E-flux, “but where a ring of dead spacecraft remains in orbit, perhaps for the descendants of future dinosaurs or giant squid to find.” 



Isla del Coco, “Treasure of Lima”


NEAREST MAJOR POPULATION CENTER: 

San José, Costa Rica (360 miles)


On a remote island surrounded by churning waves and two different species of sharks is a carefully buried group exhibition. Should you manage to brave the waters and the various dangers (it’s a two-day boat ride) in the hopes of laying eyes upon works by the likes of Marina Abramovic, Ed Ruscha, and Jon Rafman, you’d very likely have made the trip in vain. Titled the “Treasure of Lima,” this show, organized by Nadim Samman for Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy in 2014, is hidden in a “treasure chest” somewhere on the Isla del Coco—just like the famous loot it was named after. The GPS coordinates of the treasure were encoded and then sold at auction, without the decryption key. The piece, which brought together scientists, artists, and cartographers, among others, is meant to highlight the history of piracy and challenges the paragons of proprietary, ownership, and art spectatorship.




Andrew Rogers, “Rhythms of Life”


Nearest Major Population Center: 

Salt Lake City, UT (approximately 150 miles)  

Andrew Rogers Rhythms of Life Google Earth Tour Feb 2012

It’s difficult to select just one work from Rogers’s “Rhythms of Life” series. The project, consisting of some 51 huge stone sculptures (“geoglyphs”) across 16 countries and 7 continents, has been built over the past 16 years and is the most diffuse land art series in the world. Many of the works are visible to satellites—a Google Earth tour is available for free download on the artist’s website, a helpful resource for those of us unable to globetrot in real life. For three pieces located in China’s Gobi Desert, Rogers received the help of 1,000 Red Army soldiers who worked to create three separate stone geoglyphs—from a caveman, to a horseman, to his signature abstract sculpture and Rhythms of Life. According to Rogers, the pieces are meant to highlight the communities in the regions where they are built, while also speaking to the interconnectedness of all people.



Jason deCaires Taylor, Museo Atlantico


Nearest Major Population Center: 

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (110 miles)

  • Sculpture and photography by Jason deCaires Taylor.

Undersea exhibitions are the forte of sculptor, naturalist, and photographer Taylor. The British artist has been submerging his work across the world since 2006, and his 40-ton, 16-foot Ocean Atlas (2014) is the largest underwater work ever created. Taylor’s pieces highlight the destruction and decay of coral reefs the world over, while also providing a place for the coral to grow and expand. His latest project continues his exploration of how damage is inflicted upon people and natural spaces. Currently submerged in the yet-to-be-completed Museo Atlantico (located at the bottom of the Atlantic near a Spanish island off the coast of West Africa) is The Raft of Lampedusa (2016), a work of pH-neutral concrete some 49 feet below the water’s surface. The piece depicts 13 refugees on a raft—their formal arrangement harkening back to the work of Géricault—and highlights how others sit passively by as thousands of refugees drown while making the passage to Europe each year.



Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels


Nearest Major Population Center: 

Salt Lake City (109 miles away)

  • Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels (1973-1976). Photos courtesy of Retis via Flickr.

A four-hour drive from Salt Lake City brings one to Sun Tunnels by Holt—a major land art pioneer. Sun Tunnels, one of the more significant if less heralded contributions to land art, is comprised of four cement tubes, measuring 18 feet long and 9 feet wide, arranged in an X formation. Holt drilled holes in the top of each pipe in the formation of constellations, such that one can step inside the tunnels to view the night sky in the light-polution free darkness of the American southwest. If you happen to be making a pilgrimage during the summer or winter solstice, the arrangement of the tunnels will frame the sun as it rises and sets, bathing the work in rich color. But for those of who cannot make the trip, the artist created a video of the piece in 1978—though seeing it on a computer screen does not do justice to the sublime beauty.



Michael Heizer, City


Nearest Major Population Center: 

Las Vegas (130 miles)

  • Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969. © Michael Heizer. Photo by Tom Vinetz, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. 

Heizer is best known for Double Negative (1969), a piece that saw some 244,000 tons of rock moved to cut a pair of deep, rectangular slices into two opposites sides of a canyon. And though that piece was ambitious, Heizer’s City is on another scale. Under construction since 1972 and currently closed to the public, the work will be among the largest sculptures in history once finished (in 2015 the artist declared the piece “basically done” at an estimated cost of 17 million dollars). As the title suggests, it is comprised of a series of “complexes,” which can reach 80 feet in height. Given the scale and form, it has been described as “a kind of modern Chichen Itza” in the American desert. The work has also become political fodder, with Senator Harry Reid successfully pushing to have the land around it declared a natural monument. If he’s successful, it will be immune to the planned nuclear waste rail line running to Yucca Mountain that would have tarnished the landscape.


Isaac Kaplan 



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