Ugo Rondinone's Fluorescent Seven Magic Mountains

Ugo Rondinone's Fluorescent Seven Magic Mountains

No, you're not tripping. These rainbow monoliths erected by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone are the real deal

No, you're not tripping. These rainbow monoliths erected by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone are the real deal

Text: Tania Farouki

Cobalt blue, bubble gum pink, fiery orange, neon yellow: these are a few of the pigments that take center stage on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard along Interstate 15, almost half an hour from downtown Sin City. It’s no mirage—although you'd be forgiven for believing so. With help from Art Production Fund and the Nevada Museum of Art, Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone has just unveiled Seven Magic Mountains, a large-scale public artwork consisting of seven totems and composed of gargantuan locally-sourced stones in the heart of the Ivanpah Valley.

On view for the next two years, Seven Magic Mountains—which took nearly five years to complete—defies gravity with its natural hoodoo-shaped forms while evoking monumentality and collapse surrounded by mountains (each individual totem stands between thirty and thirty-five feet high). Joining the legacy of Land Art, the movement that originated in the Silver State some 40 years ago, Rondinone further explores his extensive interest in natural phenomena and their reformulation in art while colliding the worlds of romanticism, existentialism and minimalism. “Seven Magic Mountains elicits continuities and solidarities between human and nature, artificial and natural, then and now,” said the artist in a statement.

The project of mammoth magnitude—one of the largest land-based art installations in the United States completed in over 40 years—is also located near Nevada’s Jean Dry Lake, a short distance from the now legendary Jean Tinquely and Michael Heizer sculptures.

Looking at the towering sensations up close, each standing in an elegant balance and surprisingly in harmony within the midst of such untouched beauty, one can’t help but drift into a meditative state.

Just two days after the official opening, V caught up with Rondinone in a no doubt moment of euphoria, where the artist talks about his spark with Nevada, the importance of Land Art and his eternal fascination with color.

First thing's first: Congratulations on the completion of such a monumental achievement! Seven Magic Mountains took nearly five years in the making. How do you feel right now?

Ugo Rondinone I am over the moon. I hope people fall under the spell of Seven Magic Mountains and come back to visit this overwhelming landscape many times over the next two years.

Tell us about how the whole project started. What instigated the vision to pay homage to Land Art? Does each totem represent something specific? 

UR About four years ago the Nevada Museum of Art and Art Production Fund brought me out to the desert for the first time. I fell in love with the vast beauty and deep silence of the desert and became fascinated with the contrast of the bright contemporary neon city and the monochromatic ancient ground.

Seven Magic Mountains was built from the ground up. That means that instead of working from a higher preconceived theory about art and nature, the project has been made because of its individual stories that it contains. Stories about art and nature in general, stories about the world and how it feels like to be a part of it. And stories that relate to my own story.

What were some of the obstacles you came across while putting together this project?

UR I am grateful to the producers and collaborators on this project. The vision of Seven Magic Mountains was able to be realized because of their tireless efforts not only in fundraising, but also in engaging a small army of Nevadans. This is unlike any other public art project I have done, and the location is unprecedented: in Nevada, on public land. Earlier traditional Land Art projects were completed prior to the designation of such things.

Art Production Fund has a long history producing and commissioning ambitious public art projects, and Nevada Museum of Art was the ideal partner, not only because it was important to engage the Nevada community but also because of the Museum’s longstanding relationship with land art, and their Center for Art + Environment that includes archive materials from Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, Lita Albuquerque, Burning Man, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Charles Ross, etc. I am ecstatic that the Seven Magic Mountains archive will join this priceless collection.

So because of their efforts, I only had to concern myself with the challenges of creating an artwork that will both withstand the continual exposure to bright sun and harsh conditions, and also to react to it in a beautiful way. Every creation element had to be carefully considered: the paint pigments, the security and longevity of the stacking, the installation and transportation. Each of the stones weighs an average of 40’000 pounds so it’s easy to imagine the engineering challenges.

You have used bright and neon colors many times in your previous works. What fascinates you the most about those colors and how important is their role in the work you do?

UR The spectrum of the rainbow appears so often in my work because it is holistic. With Seven Magic Mountains, the colors are what enabled the work to write the new Land Art chapter, one that blends pop art with land art. The bright fluorescent colors play with the sunlight, the moonlight, the neon and the stars so that these stones pop out of the desert. The colors express the contrasts.

What do you hope this installation will achieve? Or perhaps, what do you hope the viewer will perceive, whether it's glancing at them while on the road or visiting the totems on site?

UR Seven Magic Mountains is evidence that public land can be enjoyed not only as a place to revel in fantastic open spaces, but also as a place to reflect on human creative expression inspired by natural phenomena.

Let's talk about the location. Why Nevada? Do you have a particular connection to the area? Seeing as it is linked to many aspects—from the Tinquely and Heizer sculptures to Sin City to even Burning Man... 

With this project, I have the deep honor of contributing a new chapter in the history of Land Art. The site of the project is on the same spot where ‘the last spike’ was driven of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad in January 1905. And next to the dry lake where in 1968 Michael Heizer dug into the lake surface and created the first of the ‘nine Nevada depressions.’ Nearby Sloan Canyon contains numerous petroglyphs, early examples of the creative interactions between humans and their environment. Sloan has been called the Sistine Chapel of Native American rock writing due to the size and significance of the images.

The installation combines elements of the natural world, romanticism and existentialism. Is there a particular Land Art that touched you during your career?

UR I have long been interested in big gestures in unlikely places. And also primordial phenomena. Seven Magic Mountains is an artwork of balanced marvels and excessive colors.

What message does Seven Magic Mountains send, if there is one?

UR The project is a direct reaction to my previous public sculpture project Human Nature that I did in April 2013 in New York City. Both projects have stone as their prime material and both projects form a dual disposition of contrast and similarity of the natural and the artificial. Like my five previous public sculpture projects: the neon rainbows, clay masks, olive trees, scholar rocks and stone figures, Seven Magic Mountains is imbedded in the observation of nature and its relation to the human condition.

To learn more about the installation, visit sevenmagicmountains.com.

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