Public Art

Guennette, 1977

Michael Heizer
Pink Laurentian granite sculpture featuring geometric shapes on a lawn.

Michael Heizer, Guennette, 1977, Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Photo by Chuck Mayer Photography.

Killian Court (in front of the Maclaurin Buildings; Buildings 3, 4, 10)
Michael Heizer
Pink Laurentian granite
100 x 250 x 248 in. (254 x 635 x 629.92 cm)

Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Michael Heizer is most often associated with the immense land drawings and earthworks he executed in the late 1960s and 1970s in the Nevada deserts, which involved the systematic placement of tons of earth to create vast and dramatic forms and markings.

The materials and scale of Guennette are more polished and conservative than those of his earlier work, but the sculpture’s presence still approaches the monumental. “I wanted to build it big; to the limit, the technological limit of what the rock could be slabbed at,” explained Heizer. The piece is composed of eleven slabs of billion-year-old pink granite mined in the northeastern Quebec town of Guennette. Heizer previously worked with a series of conjoined circles and circle fragments in smaller works for gallery or museum installations. Here, however, the individual elements and their collective mass rise to meet their architectural setting of the neoclassical Maclaurin Buildings by William Welles Bosworth. The precise curves and edges of the granite blocks echo the sharp lines of the surrounding buildings, while each thick-cut slab suggests a building block of architecture.

The sculpture was previously installed in an urban plaza in Manhattan and was reconfigured for its MIT setting; its emphasis on spatial relations nods to the nearby departments of physics and mathematics. One large disc-like form serves as a base and sets the proportions and relationships of the remaining ten sections, which include stacked segmented discs and a triangular shape whose sides seem equivalent in length to the segments’ chord. In spite of its imposing heft, the ensemble is accessible to the spectator through its low arrangement and implicit invitation to decipher the ordering system that underlies the configuration. 

Michael Heizer (b. 1944) was born in Berkeley, California. Initially a painter, Heizer attended the San Francisco Art Institute from 1963 to 1964 before moving to New York. In 1967, with fellow artist Walter de Maria, he traveled back to Nevada and the Mojave Desert and began to create large sculptural works, digging into and reforming great areas of earth. In the US and abroad, he collaborated with other early environmental artists. His most famous work, Double Negative (1969), consists of two trenches fifty feet deep, thirty feet wide, and 1,500 feet long, cut into the slopes of Mormon Mesa in Nevada. In the early 1970s, Heizer began construction on City, a massive and somewhat mysterious ongoing project in the remote Nevada desert, that opened to the public in 2022. Heizer lives and works in Lincoln County, Nevada. 


Listen: Caroline Jones on Michael Heizer