Michael Heizers double negative is one of the most monumental works of art the world has ever seen, and it sits right in the heart of the Nevada desert in a piece that blends sculpture and art with its unique setting. The artwork consists of twin trenches excavated from the bedrock of a canyon and stretching for over 1500 feet in Mormon Mesa in the Moapa Valley. That double negative is one of the most massive sculptures in the world, composed of rock, negative space and an expansive desert landscape. double negative brings art lovers from all over the world to Nevada to see and, more importantly, to experience. It might not be the easiest work of art to visit, but it’s certainly one of the most stunning to see and step inside.
Michael Heizer, Land Art and the Double Negative
Michael Heizer is an artist from Berkeley, California. He is one of the most prominent names in Land Art (also called Earthwork or Environmental Art), an art movement of the 1960s and 1970s that sought to expand art beyond the “white walls of museums” and defied definitions of that , what art could be and connect directly with the wide world, nature and the earth. Land Artists tend to create pieces where nature is both the subject and the source material, creating interventions directly into nature and therefore being largely site-specific.
Michael Heizer’s research was primarily concerned with the earth, outer space, negative space and weight, ranging from minimalist painting to the monumental proportions of the deserts he grew up in, allowing him freedom and impact that the more traditional Art spaces couldn’t.
The monumental double negative
One of his most famous works, the double negative, synthesizes most of Heizer’s research and production; To create it, Heizer moved 240,000 tons of rock and sandstone from Mormon Mesa and excavated two twin mirrored trenches that together measure an amazing 30 feet wide, 50 feet deep, and 1,500 feet long. The ditches face each other across a jagged mesa rim, two sharp-edged cuts in the mesa tabletop overlooking the Virgin River. Its sheer size and scale challenge viewers’ notions of art and how they should view works of art—especially ones that so thoroughly eclipse a human being.
Massive but understated, world famous yet unnoticed by many residents of Overton, Nevadadouble negative is one of the largest sculptures in the world; although essentially composed of nothing, it takes shape through the artists’ extraction process, the addition of space into the desert floor that opens up to the endless Nevada skies. In Michael Heizer’s own (famous) words: “There is nothing there, and yet it is a sculpture.”
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles currently owns double negative, donated by gallery owner and sponsor Virginia Dwan. Although the sculpture is part of the MoCA’s collection, no maintenance will be carried out at Heizer’s request; the intention is that double negative will continue to suffer from the encroachment of the natural elements, in a mirror of its nature as human encroachment on nature. Eventually it will be reclaimed from the earth through erosion and decomposition.
How to visit the double negative
Visit of double negative is considerably more complicated than a trip to MOCA’s Los Angeles locations, but witnessing the epic scale and breathtaking integration of art, earth and desert landscape makes the desert trip a worthwhile experience. It is on the outskirts of the town of Overton, also known for its proximity to the spectacular Valley of Fire.
- Location: Mormon Mesa, Overton, Nevada
- Entry: Free
double negative is about 80 miles from Las Vegas – so travelers should allow time on their Sin City itineraries to experience the desert and Nevada’s art scene. Driving from Las Vegas to Mormon Mesa takes about 90 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to drive from downtown Overton and approximately 6 hours from LA.
Print out directions or get a map in Overton as cell service can be spotty in the desert.
Las Vegas to Overton
To reach Overton from Las Vegas, travelers can head north on I-15 and take Exit 93 – NV Hwy 169 – toward Logandale/Overton.
Overton to Mormon Table Mountain
In Overton, take Moapa Valley Blvd., then turn left onto Cooper Street and proceed to Overton Airport where Cooper Street becomes Mormon Mesa Road leading up to Mormon Mesa. Climb up the road, which eventually turns into a dirt road, to the table top.
From the Mesa ridge, travelers drive 2.8 miles; When you reach a cattle station, turn left onto a ring road and continue 1.4 miles.
After taking the edge road, drive slowly and carefully – the road is near the edge of the mesa.
The location of double negative sits a little way up Mormon Mesa near the rim overlooking the Virgin River. Go east to the edge of Mormon Mesa to find the earthworks.
Warning: As it’s in the middle of the desert, bring good walking shoes, water, and sunscreen.
There is detailed instructions reach double negative on its website and on the MOCA website.