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On the road

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Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains in the desert outside Las Vegas, NV paired with Isa Arfen’s multicolor off-the-shoulder dress.

The 65mph by which people now drive by Seven Magic Mountains belies the five years it took to realize the public art piece in the desert outside Las Vegas. As Andrew Russeth recently reported in ARTnews, the ambitious installation of seven neon totems required road improvements, complicated permits, warning signs, and a special law (greatly reducing liability), i.e. patience and tenacity from its producers—the Nevada Museum of Art and Art Production Fund.

No wonder the Day-Glo work required such effort; Ugo Rondinone specializes in bold strokes, like the “Hell, Yes” light piece that graced the façade of the New Museum in 2007. Seven Magic Mountains is the inverse of an idea he explored several years ago—a coterie of monumental Stonehenge-esque stick figures at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. That piece placed “something raw within an artificial environment—Rockefeller is the most highly artificial place,” Rondinone told Russeth. “Now [I’m] going to the desert with the same material, but just creating the contrary—setting something artificial into a natural environment.”

Artificial yet familiar; Rondinone drew inspiration from nature’s own hoodoos, the globular spires that protrude from rock formations in arid basins like Utah—funky remnants of erosion. His thirtysomething-foot-tall totems also recall the meditation practice of balancing stones. Or the navigational cues of cairns. Seven Magic Mountains seems “both primordial and pop,” Russeth writes. “It is a uniquely jaunty piece of public art for the area, sharply contrasting the austere, canonical public works staged in the West by artists like Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Jean Tinguely.”

A piece attuned to place and time, reflective of the economic optimism returning to Las Vegas. “New Age objects perfectly befitting the present moment,” writes Russeth. On view for two years, Seven Magic Mountains will be seen by some 16 million people driving along Interstate 15, en route to or from California. I do believe Jack Kerouac would have stopped for a look-see.

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

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