Rock, Paper, Screenprint: The “Post Historic” Artworks of Michael Heizer
From the depths of the Nevada desert where he works, Michael Heizer, sculptor of monumental installations, reminds us of mankind’s connection to stone and earth, mass and space, presence and absence, permanence and ephemerality. In a new series of prints created with Durham Press, Heizer translates his larger sculptural ideas to two dimensions. Titled “Post Historic Screenprints,” these works comprise systematically placed rock forms in wild fields of color.
In the 1960s, along with Robert Smithson and James Turrell, Heizer became a trailblazer of the movement known as Land Art, which rethought the material context of art-making, using excavated stone, dirt, and land as a medium. His monumental pieces include earthworks like Double Negative (1969–70) in Nevada’s Moapa Valley; sculptures in which boulders are displaced to new locations, as in LACMA’s Levitated Mass (2012); and large-scale minimalist sculptures such as Dia:Beacon’s North, East, South, West (1967/2002). These are part of a larger—summa mission in which Heizer intends to create “permanent American art” and does so through considerations including manipulation of mass, negative and positive space, motion or the lack thereof, and the examination of the pathways of humanity through history.
Michael Heizer and Jean-Paul Russell. Photo by Ray Charles White
Over the past year, in advance of Heizer’s current show at Gagosian Gallery, “Altars,” the artist worked with Durham Press owner Jean-Paul Russell to finalize older monoprints and a new edition. (Russell and the Durham Press staff were also involved in preparations for the exhibition.) For the new screenprints, Heizer has arranged prints of rocks in methodical compositions that evoke excavation sites or objects in a museum. Photographic groupings of these rocks are each printed as larger-than-life monochromes, and are then overswept with swaths of sprayed color and loose sketching. The prints are part of an extensive printing process begun in 2000 in collaboration with Durham Press. One of these pieces, Post Historic Screenprint No. 1 (2014) requires 22 individual screens to realize, while Post Historic Screenprint No. 2 (2014) calls for 33.
The new prints are particularly timely because Heizer is currently enjoying something of a moment. In addition to “Altars,” the artist’s first show with Gagosian, his ongoing City earthwork was recently written up by the New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman, who said “it may be the most ambitious sculpture anyone has ever built.” In an era of rapid transition that emphasizes the intangible and the fleeting, Heizer’s work resonates as being grounded and firm, a characterization that’s both ancient and focused on the future.