… Art has to be new every time. If you’re being repetitive, it’s not a contribution, so why bother?
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Kara Vander Weg: Can you talk about the title of your show, Altars, and its meaning for you?
Michael Heizer: You know how it is with altars — people put fancy chalices and objects on them. An altar would be anything ceremonial: Obama’s desk, for example. If art isn’t spiritual, it is decoration.
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MH: … I have this sculpture, a little ceramic head with a wire mounted into it and placed on a huge piece of wood. The so-called base is six hundred times more dominant than the artwork, but it puts a lot of energy into the little deity. Alone on the table, the ceramic element would be a piece of junk, but the wood enables it, it articulates it. That’s a pedestal, that’s an altar.
Everyone thought that a Calder sitting on the ground was modern because it was freestanding and a victory over pedantic pedestals, but sometimes it can be super modern to utilize a pedestal.
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KVW: You once said, “My sense is that you see art sequentially.” But isn’t the idea that a full knowledge of the sculpture only exists in the viewer’s mind?
MH: We have to see a sculpture in time. There aren’t very many people who understand sculpture. You would think it would be the most available and easiest art form to contend with, but it isn’t. Movies and photography aren’t a way to see art; they are a way to illustrate it. I don’t like kinetic work that moves around; I like static art. I am peaceful around it. What I do is Zen contemplative. My work has contained energy, not a momentarily present energy.
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KVW: Can you talk about the creative decisions behind the rocks?
MH: Each rock is, in my mind, a work of art, but there has to be something more to it. I decide how to present it, rotate it, decide what side is up and what side is down, then put it in the box and have it poking out of the box, but make the box tight around it. The rocks have been bolted and pinned in, and in the case of Potato Chip it has been suspended so that it can swing. That rock has a percussion surface, a wave that goes edge to edge, which shows the power of the shear where it snapped off. The granite faces in Yosemite Valley are percussion surfaces.
As far as evolution, the rocks in boxes with backs evolved before Potato Chip, which doesn’t have a front or a back. If you build a wall around it, it becomes a hole in the wall. Negative space is where you find it or invent it. And this is Displaced/Replaced Mass, where you take out a mass and replace it with something else — a rock. It is about volume and mass, like all of my rock sculptures. It’s also like the medieval painting by Hans Holbein that shows a dead Jesus inserted on a slab in the wall.
KVW: How do you want people to feel when they walk in the space and see your work?
MH: I hope that they have never had an experience like it. It has to be transcendent. If it isn’t, there is no point. Art has to be new every time. If you’re being repetitive, it’s not a contribution, so why bother?