City, in Garden Valley, Nevada, by Michael Heizer
Courtesy Tom Vinetz, Triple Aught Foundation

For the past 43 years, land art pioneer Michael Heizer has been constructing "City" in the Nevada desert. Spanning 1 1/4 miles in length and a little over a quarter of a mile wide, the massive artscape of abstract, geometric objects is undoubtedly the artist’s masterpiece—and it isn’t even finished. While the land that the piece stands on is actually owned by Heizer, the area around it is threatened by the possibility of becoming a missile site, oil and gas reserve, or a nuclear waste rail line.  

Levitated Mass, by Michael Heizer, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art. 
Alyse & Remi/Flickr user via Creative Commons license

To combat this possibility, American museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, are promoted the campaign Protect Basin and Range. This calls for the conservation of the stretch of land surrounding the site and making it a monument, which would be determined by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The petition is available to sign on Facebook, and is further backed up the hashtag #ProtectCITY on Twitter. LACMA, which houses Heizer’s 34-ton boulder titled “Levitated Mass,” has a post on its Unframed blog on protecting the artist’s work. The Gagosian Gallery, the international contemporary art gallery which represents Heizer, is also promoting this message on its site

From an artistic and cultural standpoint, the desolate land of the built site—which is in its final stage of completion—and the shape of the sculpture rely on each other. As evident in Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times profile on Heizer from 2005, another time when a nuclear rail line predicted to be built there, the sculpture isn’t visible from even a mile out yet the shapes mimic the topology. Scott Tennent, LACMA’s director of executive communications, wrote this on Unframed: “As with many of Heizer’s greatest works, the sculpture is incomplete without the surrounding landscape. The solitude of 'City' is part of its power. To have the surrounding land developed into anything would severely impact Heizer’s work.” Especially since the project is not open to the public yet, and won’t be until it is completed. If the public land was used to excavate natural resources, that would mean Heizer’s original vision would be compromised, and not give visitors the true experience.

As with many of Heizer’s greatest works, the sculpture is incomplete without the surrounding landscape. The solitude of City is part of its power. – Scott Tennent, LACMA's director of executive communications

But protecting the land goes farther than this. The area is also home to ancient archaeological findings, such as Native American trails, rock drawings dating back to the Paleoindian period, and artifacts of 19th century settlements. There are also environmental concerns for the natural wildlife such as the antelope, coyotes, and rabbits that are unique to the area. If Basin and Range was granted conservation status by the BLM, it would provide diversity within the lands already protected by the government.