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Double Negative

Michael Heizer

Double Negative

Michael Heizer
  • Date: 1969
  • Style: Environmental (Land) Art
  • Genre: installation

Double Negative is a piece of land art located in the Moapa Valley on Mormon Mesa (or Virgin River Mesa) near Overton, Nevada. The work consists of a long trench in the earth, 30 feet (9 m) wide, 50 feet (15 m) deep, and 1500 feet (457 m) long, created by the displacement of 244,000 tons of rock, mostly rhyolite and sandstone. Two trenches straddle either side of a natural canyon (into which the excavated material was dumped). The "negative" in the title thus refers in part to both the natural and man-made negative space that constitutes the work. The work essentially consists of what is not there, what has been displaced.

In 1969 the art dealer Virginia Dwan funded the purchase of the 60-acre site for Double Negative and in turn the artist transferred the property deeds to Dwan. In 1971 Heizer prevented the Dwan Gallery from selling the work. Dwan then donated Double Negative to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MoCA) in 1984, with Heizer’s blessing, to coincide with “In Context: Michael Heizer, Geometric Extraction”. Among the terms of the agreement with the museum is the fact that, according to the artist's wishes, MoCA will undertake no conservation of the piece as Heizer wants nature to eventually reclaim the land through weather and erosion.

For the solo exhibition "In Context: Michael Heizer, Geometric Extraction", MoCA was able to include a photographic pan­o­rama of Heizer’s work. For the large-scale, historical survey of land art “Ends of the Earth” at MoCA in 2012, Heizer did not want any representation of Double Negative to be included in the exhibition. A good aerial photograph appears in the informative catalog, but Heizer reportedly worried that documentation in a museum gallery misrepresents sculpture that can be known only through physical experience.

The work is currently owned by MoCA and is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle or motorcycle.

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