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Heizer sculpture dismantled in Michigan
Sculpture Magazine, April 2003, Vol.22, No. 3, p. 14/15


Irving Taran recalls picking up visiting friends from the Lansing airport and taking them directly to see the monumental sculpture in the evening. "We had popcorn and looked at it," the Michigan State University art professor said. "They would say 'My god, a Michael Heizer in Lansing, Mich.' and I would say 'Amazing, isn't it?' and they would respond 'Most amazing!'"

For Michigan state capital residents a starlit evening with popcorn and monumental art may never again be possible: Just before Christmas, construction workers dismantled Michael Heizer's one-half acre public sculpture, "This Equals That," and placed it in a state warehouse.

Neither Heizer, who lives on a ranch in Hiko, Nev., nor the art community was consulted about Michigan's decision to dismantle Lansing's Stonehenge. A spokeswoman for the Department of Management and Budget said the state had been unable to locate Heizer. She commented that a letter had been prepared but the address was missing.

Michael Govan, director of the Dia Art Foundation, the current sponsor of Heizer's massive land art project in Nevada called "City," said that it was "ridiculous" for the artist not to have been consulted, especially considering that his address has been the same for years. Govan pointed out that the 1980 piece is ("or maybe was") one of America's greatest monumental sculptures. He said he was skeptical of Michigan's interest in restoring the sculpture, considering that it had been neglected for so long and supposed the lack of communication with the artist.

According to the state, cracks in "This Equals That" had formed during fabrication, when the sculpture's seven iron, oxide-tinted concrete pieces were first sprayed over the stainless steel, plywood-and-mesh framework. This allowed water to seep through and rot the interior boards. The water is also said to have seeped down into to the concrete plaza below, to the underground parking garage upon which the ensemble sits-dangerously weakening spots in the garage's roof.

Govan said the Michigan government is using the sculpture's lack of waterproofing as an excuse. He said originally the sculpture was on a concrete plaza, but in 1996 grass had been reintroduced. "It looked like it was sitting on dishes. In a way it already was destroyed."

Harriet F. Senie, Associate Professor of Art History at City College of New York and author of "The Titled Arc Controversy," a case study of the dismantlement of Richard Serra's New York City sculpture, said that the excuse of "safety" is a usual cover-up under which one can remove any public piece. She recalled the extreme example of George Sugarman's sculpture "Baltimore Federal," a General Services Administration commission of 1978, which was removed because "people were concerned that rapists could hide behind it." Senie said that whereas the Serra piece was removed because some people hated it, "This Equals That" was being removed more or less "as a function of neglect."

In 1979, when the State of Michigan decided to acquire a major sculpture, the art community had chosen Heizer and proudly purchased "This Equals That," then the largest sculpture in the United States. It was placed just west of the Capitol in downtown Lansing, and praised by art critics as a clever geometric concept showing one full circle, two halves, four quarters, and eight eighths, all within a whole. The State of Michigan invested a hefty $540,000.

The sudden, unexpected dismantlement is now creating a rumble in Michigan's art community. Mary Ann Keeler, vice chairwoman of the Special Arts Commission that was appointed in 1975 by former Gov. William Milliken, said she was "furious" about the Republican Gov. John Engler's approval of the action.

Interestingly, the dismantlement of "This Equals That" has also coincided with the State's change of the guards. The Democratic candidate, Jennifer Granholm, was elected as the new Governor of Michigan, and sworn into office in January. In a recent letter to Granholm, Keeler pledged: "You, with your Harvard education, know the significance and beauty of art. You cannot let the Heizer fall into oblivion. Restore the Heizer sculpture. By this simple act you can become the Governor who supports Art."