Michael Heizer at Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village, New York, 1977
Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002
Photographer: Lindsay GREEN

Michael Heizer is known primarily as the sculptor whose monumental earthworks erected in the vast desert expanses of the American Midwest marked the beginning of the Land Art movement of the 1960s. An artist who is celebrated for liberating art from the confines of the gallery space, Heizer has also maintained a more conventional painting and printmaking practice. Several of his print series feature in the Kenneth Tyler Collection.

Heizer has always worked with geometric shapes. His earliest paintings were large, single–coloured, shaped canvases that protruded from the wall, lending the work a sculptural quality that he went on to develop on a massive scale. In 1969, working in the remote Nevada desert, Heizer made the series Primitive dye paintings, in which bright, powdered dyes were spread over the dry desert landscape, covering large areas that when viewed from the air formed amorphous, organic shapes. Later that year Heizer began to create ‘negative’ sculptures by cutting directly into the earth. Double negative of 1969–70 consists of two massive, rectangular trenches dug on either side of a large mesa.

The trenches are visible from space and their construction involved the shifting of 240 000 tonnes of earth and rock. Heizer began his ambitious City project in 1972. The project, which, as the title suggests, will ultimately result in a massive sculptural city, continues today.
Heizer’s prints in the National Gallery’s collection complement his sculptural work and illuminate his preoccupation with geometry and natural forms. The Circle prints investigate geometric form by dissecting the sphere into interlocking triangles and rectangles. This idea is furthered in the Paper collage series, where the circle is created by the collaging of various off–cuts from previous printing projects. All of the Circle works are executed in tones that recall Heizer’s preoccupation with earth; deep browns and ochre yellows are complemented by basalt blacks and steely greys.
Emilie Owens

Further reading


Born in Berkeley, California

Attends San Francisco Art Institute, California

Moves to New York City

Included in exhibitions: Earthworks, Dwan Gallery, New York; Sculpture annual, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Receives Cassandra Foundation award

First solo exhibition, Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Munich, Germany Creates earthwork Double Negative in a canyon at Morman Mesa, Nevada

Solo exhibition, Michael Heizer: New York-Nevada, Dwan Gallery, New York; included in Venice biennale, Italy Chooses site and begins planning for the as yet unfinished earthwork, City

Creates earthwork, Complex One, Nevada

Completes the Lashonda Series monoprints at Gemini GEL, Los Angeles

Solo exhibition, Heizer: new works - painting and sculpture, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York Creates earthwork, Adjacent, Against, Upon, in Seattle, Washington

Completes Circle Series prints at Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village, New York; sculpture commissioned by Museum of Modern Art, New York Included in exhibitions: Documenta 6, Kassel, West Germany; 1977 Biennial Exhibition, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art off the picture press, Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University, New York; included in travelling exhibition Probing the earth: contemporary land projects, originating atHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

Installs sculpture, This Equals That, State Capitol Complex, Lansing, Michigan

Retrospective exhibition, Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany Completes Monotype Collage series at Tyler Graphics Ltd; completes Scrap Metal drypoint series at Gemini GEL

Completes three print series at Gemini GEL: Swiss Survey, Montana Survey and Platform

Included in travelling exhibition, Variants: drawings by contemporary sculptors, originating at Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Completes 45°, 90°, 180°print series at Tyler Graphics LtdSolo exhibition, 45°, 90°, 180°, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York; included in exhibition, Sculpture: the tradition in steel, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York; included in exhibition, The American artist as Printmaker: the 23rd annual print exhibition, Brooklyn Museum, New York

Solo exhibition, Michael Heizer: Sculpture in reverse, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; included in exhibitions: Prints from Tyler Graphics, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Gemini GEL: art and collaboration, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; included in travelling exhibition, Drawings by sculptors: two decades of non-objective art in the Seagram collection, originating at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec

Solo exhibition, Michael Heizer: dragged mass geometric, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; included in exhibition, Gemini GEL: art and collaboration, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Included in exhibition, American drawings and watercolors of the twentieth century: selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; included in exhibition, Individuals: a selected history of contemporary art, 1943-1986, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Included in exhibitions: Vital signs, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The combination print: 1980’s, New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts, Summit, New Jersey

Included in travelling exhibition, The turning point: art and politics in nineteen sixty-eight, originating at Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Ohio

Included in exhibition, Pharmakon ’90, Nippon Convention Center, Makuhari Messe, Tokyo

Solo exhibition, Michael Heizer: works 1972 – 1976, Galerie Frank + Schulte, Berlin, Germany

Retrospective exhibition, Michael Heizer, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy

Solo exhibition, Michael Heizer: hard edge ejecta, Knoedler & Company, New York

Michael Heizer currently lives and works in Hiko, Nevada.

Emilie Owens, 2007
This chronology provides an overview of selected biographical information, major solo and group exhibitions held within the artist's own lifetime.

Further information will be added to this site as the National Gallery proceeds with its research and documentation.

Last updated October 2015