Michael Heizer: PaceWildenstein
Turvey, Lisa, Artforum International
The eight concrete sculptures included in Michael Heizer's recent exhibition at PaceWildenstein spotlight a moment in his practice during which an interest in excavation was expanded to encompass the objects thereby unearthed. While the massive mesa gashes of Double Negative, 1969-70, for example, or the pits and mounds of his City project (1970-) often resemble the work of an archaeologist, here the allusion is even more direct: These sculptures, all of which were made in 1988 or 1989, are colossal replicas of an assortment of Paleolithic and Neolithic tools. (Biography is not an interpretive stretch in this case; the artist's grandfather was a mining engineer, and his father an anthropologist who was often accompanied in the field by his son.) Heizer's earthworks have often been likened to ancient monuments, but this (for him) smaller-scale work is no less high-flown in its evocations, summoning as it does that crucial evolutionary phase when hominids, in part by making and using tools, started to become humans.
In a quotation printed on the wall near the gallery entrance, Heizer stated his intention with this series: He wants these tools to "contribute" as sculptural "forms," not mere "applications"--as art objects, not implements. Their size alone accomplishes this end. The functionality of any given hand tool is simply not pertinent when that tool measures sixteen feet, and Heizer's long-standing assertion that he is more concerned with size than scale becomes conspicuously evident (the logic of scale, which implies a relativity of measurement, is upended when an originally tiny chipping blade is inflated to this degree). This lack of utility, and resultant lack of context, lends dry prehistoric titles such as Adze #2, 1988-89; Prismatic Flake, 1989; and Biface Perforator #3, 1988-89, a romantic peculiarity that extends to the works themselves. …