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Will Double Negative be a no show?

Curators face uphill task getting OK from Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria

Double Negative (detail, photo by William Nettles) was acquired by MoCA in 1984. Right, the artist Michael Heizer in 1968

los angeles. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles is organising the first large-scale, historical survey of land art in a major US institution since the late 1970s. The museum is well placed to do so, being one of the few institutions to have two early examples of land art in its collection: Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1969-70, and Walter De Maria’s Hard Core, 1969. However, whether Heizer or De Maria will give their blessings, or allow documentation of their work to be included, is still to be confirmed with less than six months to go before the show’s planned opening in the spring of 2012.

The Art Newspaper’s current understanding is that Heizer does not want any representation of Double Negative to be included in “Ends of the Earth”. MoCA’s senior curator, Philipp Kaiser, says the museum respects that “visitors must go out there to see it, to walk through it”, and will provide visitors with detailed maps and directions on how to reach the site. “No decision has been made so far” on whether De Maria’s work will be included, he says. Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria’s commercial representatives declined to comment.

Heizer’s Double Negative is a trench measuring 1,500 ft by 30 ft, “carved” by dynamite and bulldozers from facing slopes of a mesa in the Nevada desert over 300 miles from Los Angeles. De Maria described Hard Core, a 16mm film, as “a western shoot-out scene, but the shoot-out extended over half an hour and with a lot of landscape”. Kaiser, conscious of the natural deterioration of Double Neg­ative, wants the exhibition to raise awareness of land art, issues that surround showing and preserving it “and the importance of this piece”.

“Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974” will feature more than 100 sculptural and media-based works by more than 80 international artists in the muse­um’s vast Geffen Center. Kaiser and co-curator, Miwon Kwon, an art historian at the University of California in Los Angeles, want to revise the popular image that land art is primarily a US movement, dominated by monumental sculpture in the desert. Another aim is to acknowledge the role of gallerists, collectors, curators and critics. They have frequently been misrepresented in art history and museums, “as backdrop with artists as makers”, says Kwon.

Kaiser and Kwon will focus on three historical exhibitions including “Earth Art” from 1969, considered to be the first Land Art show that involved both US and international artists. Organised by curator Wil­loughby Sharp at the Cornell University Art Museum, this show also encountered difficulties. Heizer and De Maria accepted Sharp’s invitation to create site-specific works for the show, exhibited briefly, but then withdrew for reasons that remain unclear. Reflecting on the exhibition 40 years later, Sharp said: “I tried to do what the artists wanted done.”

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 MoCA in 1984, with Heizer’s blessing, to coincide with “In Context: Michael Heizer, Geometric Extraction”. For this solo exhibition, MoCA was able to include a photographic pan­o­rama of Heizer’s work.

After showing at MoCA, “Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974” is due to travel to Haus der Kunst in Munich in autumn 2012.

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