Vast stretches of the Nevada desert are covered in brown dust and faded bushes, but for a limited time there will be something else as well: seven towers of brightly painted boulders.

The boulders are a piece by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone called Seven Magic Mountains. The installation is located in the desert south of Las Vegas and, according to an interactive timeline, has been in the works for years.

The piece is supposed to offer “a creative critique of the simulacra of destinations like Las Vegas.” According to Rondinone, the forms themselves were inspired by hoodoos in Utah.

The deserts of the American West are a surprisingly fruitful place for colossal public art. Perhaps most famously, the bleached banks of the Great Salt Lake serve as the home of Utah’s Spiral Jetty. Relatively nearby, Utah also has the Tree of Life and the Sun Tunnels.

Nevada has a history with large-scale desert art as well, and the same region that now hosts Seven Magic Mountains was previously used by artists such as Michael Heizer.

I can’t speak for the artists, but these deserts certainly offer compelling landscapes for art. In addition to striking, often-hostile environments that force viewers to confront notions of “beauty,” art in the desert also capitalizes on and incorporates the journey in the pieces themselves. In other words, Seven Magic Mountains or the Spiral Jetty aren’t just the rocks themselves, they’re also the performance the viewer undertakes to reach them.

UPDATE: I swung by this installation Wednesday while traveling for work. It was easy to find, just off the highway, and worth the small detour. There were about a dozen people there during my visit.

If you go: The website for Seven Magic Mountains includes these driving directions for people coming from Las Vegas: Follow I-15 S to Sloan Rd (exit 25). Turn left (east) to Las Vegas Boulevard. Drive approximately 7 miles south on Las Vegas Blvd. and the artwork will appear on your left (east).

The piece is scheduled to be up through May 2018.

Further reading:

The breathtaking expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats

This Nevada ghost town used to be underwater

There’s a Wild West ghost town filled with rusting treasures

— Jim Dalrymple II

* Cover photo courtesy Art Production Fund and Nevada Museum of Art


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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