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Heizer Sculpture Dumped in Field
Sculpture Magazine, March 2004, Vol.23, No.2, p. 12


One year ago, the state of Michigan quietly dismantled Michael Heizer's This Equals That (1980), a half-acre sculpture in Lansing (Sculpture, April 2003). Today, its steel framework - the concrete shell was removed and destroyed - rests in a marshy meadow a few miles south of the city. It's an ignominious end for what was once considered one of America's most important public artworks.
Even in its present undignified condition, the skeleton leaves an epic impression on the viewer. That is, if one ignores its shroud of weather protection foil. This supposedly protective covering is mostly ripped off, dangling loosely, as if to signify that it doesn't deserve any better treatment than the plastic used to wrap road construction projects.
Megan Ann Jones, an expert at the Chicago Conservation Center, believes that, even if it were tightly covered, the sculpture will not last one season outdoors. "Those parts are definitely not supposed to be exposed to rain and snow." She suggested that the state build a wooden shed around the work. Storing the sculpture outdoors without appropriate protection will make any possible conservation effort much more expansive.
Sarah Lapshan, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, said that the department's director, William Anderson, spoke with Department of Management and Budget officials about ensuring that the framework was covered and protected as well as possible from the elements. Having seen the exposed framework, I can say for certain that this is not being done.
Former Governor William G. Milliken, who approved the purchase of This Equals That in 1979, said he was troubled to hear about the fate of the framework: "I would think that the state has a basic responsibility for the sculpture The bottom line is that they don't know what do with it. So they dismantled it and moved it away."
Such treatment of a public artwork is not unprecedented. Roy Saper, owner of Saper Galleries in East Lansing, said that Lansing is known for offering wonderful opportunities for public art and then taking them away. He recalls how Jose de Rivera's stainless steel sculpture quietly went into storage': "Sculptures come and go in Lansing, but unfortunately there is no huge outcry"
The dismantling of This Equals That was approved by Governor John Engler (R) shortly before he left office in 2002. In an interview with the local National Public Radio affiliate, John Truscott, Engler's former press secretary, commented that he always disliked the sculpture. "It looked like something an elementary school kid could have done. It didn't have much finesse."
Heizer was never contacted about the decision to dismantle his work. Jennifer Mackiewicz, an associate for the Dia Art Foundation in New York and Heizer's assistant in the Nevada desert for 11 years, said that the artist was very angry about the situation. She said that other state and local governments have been much more cooperative, citing the City of Seattle, which purchased Heizer's Adjacent, Against, Upon in 1976, and several other arts commissions across the U.S. that own Heizer sculptures and have always contacted him prior to any interventions.
The original plan had been to store the work in a state warehouse and later restore it. But restoration costs are estimated at $1 million, and the state's current deficit is $900 million. Four different scenarios for the fate of This Equals That are being discussed.
Offering the framework to an arts group for privately funded restoration and placement is one possibility. Seeking private funding to erect the sculpture at an alternate site is another. State-appropriated funds could be secured for restoration, or the steel framework may simply be destroyed. Heizer has stated that should the work be restored - even to its original specifications - he plans to remove his name from it.