Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project


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Mary, although she's from Michigan, is a Western classic, soft-spoken and steady. She can birth a calf, make plum jam, change a truck tire, help oversee the complicated accounting on the project, ride herd over construction workers and ranch hands, format the digital images of the sculpture on the computer, reprogram electronics for the testy solar panels and in her spare time retreat to a studio behind Heizer's office and paint abstract pictures of an ethereal calm and Western light.

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She's in charge of the herd. The plan is to keep expanding it, she said. She and Heizer live pretty much like many small-time ranchers in their elective isolation. He's just the only guy around building the equivalent of the ancient pyramids in his front yard. Lincoln County is Mormon country, where ranching families go back to the 's, people don't like the government telling them what to do and outsiders are regarded with suspicion.

It took a while for locals to get to know Heizer, who stayed to himself. His prickliness was always partly calculated: it kept away unwanted busybodies and skeptics while burnishing his reputation as art's ornery outlaw. One evening I discovered Mary and Heizer laughing in the living room. She had come across some old letters that Robert Heizer, Michael's father, had written to various people. They were rants, she said. Like father, like son, I surmised. When I initially visited Heizer, his pent-up frustration had made him extremely testy with what was then a laconic crew that had no experience constructing anything like "City.

He's a perfectionist; they shrug. If Heizer, over the years, picked fights and lost allies, insisting, against common sense, he was the first, the only, the best artist around, clearly some people have stuck loyally by him. He's honorable. Patrick Lannan Jr. I'm an artist.


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I don't work with drawings or models. This is a creative process. It's an act of faith on their part. Then one day Julius climbed the ladder unannounced. You have already taken four full years. Heizer figures that when his own work is done, it will be there for anybody to see for centuries -- that he's building not for today but for the ages. It's a perspective he came by naturally. His father was collaborating on a book about the transport of massive stones in antiquity when he died in , at An obituary by colleagues from the Berkeley anthropology department described Robert Heizer as "a lone, work-addicted man whose prodigious production required rigid self-discipline.

It's a picture of a slender, youngish Robert holding a box of year-old rusty iron spikes that bound the oaken ribs of a sunken Spanish explorer ship. A newspaper cartoon of Robert is tucked in the same folder. He's depicted as a bespectacled Indiana Jones in tie and tweed jacket, brandishing a skull before a pile of bones.

Some of the mounds in "City," it occurs to me when I see the cartoon, are shaped like bones, and the stelae are a bit like the spikes. In front of Heizer's house there is also a gigantic perforated sculpture resembling Swiss cheese. During the 's, Robert Heizer discovered tiny perforated horns, shamanist objects, left behind by hunter-gatherers who lived beside a prehistoric lake in Nevada. Heizers have been in or around Nevada since the 's. Heizer's grandfather, Olaf, whose own father was chairman of Stanford's physiology department, became the chief geologist for California.

He conducted geological surveys in Sumatra and helped map Tennessee, Washington and California. A family story, Heizer says, is that one of Olaf's horses was used by Eadweard Muybridge for his stop-action photographs. Ott F.


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  • Heizer, Heizer's other grandfather, ran the largest tungsten mining operation in Nevada. Heizer recalls: "I was taken out of school by my dad when I was 11 and lived in Mexico City, then later in Paris. I went with him to excavate in Bolivia and Peru. I never finished high school.

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    I was a straight F student anyway. My father admitted to me later that he'd thought I would come to no good. It was tough for my parents because I hated school. I didn't have many friends. I wasn't a sports guy, a team player. The only sport I liked as I grew up was riding motorcycles, and you do that alone.

    At 19, he briefly took a few art classes in San Francisco and started making geometric paintings, then moved to New York in He supported himself working for slumlords, lugging a compressor over the cobblestone streets in SoHo, hooking up a spray gun and painting a six-story building top to bottom white in the rooms, brown in the stairwells in a day. His switch to sculpture in grew partly out of the geometric paintings he had been doing, which were shaped canvases. These served almost as diagrams for the sculptures he would make in the earth.

    Much of that first outdoor work was fleeting, almost provisional, the opposite of "City. He has changed over the years, as a result of defending himself from attacks, real or imagined. I was flummoxed by the work. I couldn't figure out this person who seemed to come from outer space, so I asked Walter De Maria, who said, 'Yes, Virginia, he's an original. For "Double Negative," in , Dwan gave Heizer money, sight unseen. Working partly with Dwan's gallery director, John Weber, Heizer called her from Los Angeles one day to say it was done.

    A few years later, Dwan bought for Heizer the first parcels of property in Garden Valley, which he chose because the land was cheap, the soil and climate were right and not much of the rest of the valley could be homesteaded. The road in and out was a weedy livestock trail, which sometimes got so bad in winter that Heizer would be locked in for months, seeing only a couple of sheep trailers and an occasional pickup truck.

    Fearful of being robbed, he surrounded the place with cyclone fencing and left only at night to get back before dawn. Eventually he built himself a house out of cinder-block seconds. When Dwan finally saw the first Complexes, she cried.

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    That takes courage. Heizer still commuted to New York and Los Angeles, doing commissions, networking. He liked the dinners at Odeon, the parties at Chateau Marmont with movie stars -- until he decided he didn't. It's fine if you trust the system and agree to move along the street in an orderly fashion. But you can't carry a weapon to protect yourself, even though it's more dangerous there than here. I find it castrating. It has been said that the early works Heizer and Smithson and De Maria and others did outdoors seemed like a fresh start, full of promise.

    Nancy Holt, the sculptor who was married to Smithson and who used to be close to Heizer, recalled traveling with the two men: "To go outside into the landscape, that sense of liberation, just crossing the Hudson River, it was glorious. The mass media picked up quicker than the art media what was happening. This was when everyone was seeing the earth from outer space for the first time; 'ecology' was a new word.

    And when you look at the old photographs of us, you can see the joy in our faces. That was then.

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    Should the rail go through, Heizer now claims, he'll dynamite "City," never mind that he is building it to be indestructible for thousands of years, or that the people giving him money aren't likely to fork over another million or so dollars to destroy it and return the desert to its original condition. But with him, it has become all or nothing.

    Posterity isn't the next generation; it's a millennium. I knew I'd done it. There was no precedent in the history of mankind. And he did not just add his sensibility to radical art movements of the 60's and 70's. As he sees it, he single-handedly, without influence from any other living artist, started a "revolution. The sculptor Richard Serra, Heizer's contemporary, who was an acquaintance of Heizer's during the 60's and whose own work sometimes now rivals Heizer's in size, has said: "Whoever tells you he dropped from heaven knows the opposite is equally true. Heizer's stance is empowering because what artists do is individuate themselves, and this guy has done it to the nth degree.

    There was also the MX during the 80's, he reminded me one morning. We were in his kitchen with Gracian Uhalde, his nearest neighbor, who has a ranch about 15 miles away and who works as a contractor on "City. The MX plan was to crisscross Garden and other nearby valleys -- Coal, Dry Lake, Delamar -- with rail tracks leading to silos for moving around and hiding missiles. Mary spread an MX map over the kitchen table. It showed the valleys as a checkerboard of rail lines.

    When I found Uhalde working at "City" later that same morning, he moseyed over, stomping his feet against the bitter cold, and slid a pinch of chewing tobacco into his cheek. In his early 50's, he has a broad, well-creased face, partly hidden behind a huge white handlebar mustache.

    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project
    Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project Cry lonesome and other accounts of the anthropologist’s project

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