double negative by Michael Heizer

2011 March 5

Double Negative is Michael Heizer's first prominent earthwork. Seen above from near the edge of the work, and below from space via satellite, Double Negative consists of two trenches cut into the eastern edge of the Mormon Mesa, northwest of Overton, Nevada in 1969-70. The trenches line up across a large gap formed by the natural shape of the mesa edge. Including this open area across the gap, the trenches together measure 1,500 feet long, 50 feet deep, and 30 feet wide (457 meters long, 15.2 meters deep, 9.1 meters wide). 240,000 tons (218,000 tonnes) of rock, mostly rhyolite and sandstone, was displaced in the construction of the trenches. Double Negative was among the first "earthworks," artworks created as part of a movement known as "land art" or "earth art." Earthworks are contemporary artworks that use as their canvas or medium the earth itself. In keeping with the mission of modern art, Double Negative blurs the distinction between sculpture ("art") and normal objects such as rocks ("not art"), and encourage viewers to consider how the earth relates to art. The sheer size of Double Negative also invites contemplation of the scale of art, and the relation of the viewer the earth and to art itself. How does art change when it can't fit in a museum? How does one observe an artwork that's a quarter-mile long? Double Negative, though a notable piece of art, is essentially no more than a big trench (and even then, not a complete trench, as it crosses empty space). In that, it consists more of what was than what currently is. Constructing Double Negative was an act of construction only inasmuch as something was taken away, and that this removal constituted a creative act. In that the artwork is itself negative space (and when it crosses empty space, it is doubly negative space, as the title suggests), it begs meditation on the principle of art as creation, when Heizer has not in fact added but substracted. Double Negative belongs to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, through the gift of Virginia Dwan.

Back to home