Drivers are pulling off I-15 just south of Las Vegas to get closer to the massive candy-colored totems that have appeared in the desert, as if placed there that morning by some mothership as a message of sorts.
Screaming hot-pink, yellow and orange—it’s anybody’s guess on this Sunday afternoon what it all means. Most of those stopping did so out of curiosity and the formal placard for Ugo Rondinone’s two-year installation, “Seven Magic Mountains,” has yet to be installed (it doesn’t officially open until May 11). The only clue comes from the laminated sign attached to a fence announcing the work and its related website. The mystery here seems as bewildering as it is awe-inspiring to visitors posing for photos, circling its perimeter and gazing up at the primitive formations of the contemporary art piece that is both of the landscape and against the landscape, literally and figuratively.
Co-produced by the Nevada Museum of Art and New York’s Art Production Fund, the installation serves as a critique of Vegas-style simulacrum while nodding to the area’s historical art past. Swiss artist Jean Tinguely exploded items at Jean Dry Lake in 1962 for his site-specific piece “Study for an End of the World No. 2.” And in 1968 land artist Michael Heizer created “Rift 1,” a zigzag trench in the lake bed that was part of a series, before creating the mammoth trenches of “Double Negative” at the Mormon Mesa near Overton. Rondinone’s work, however, is all about the color and the wry commentary on the reality of fabricating reality. It's astonishingly bright—a pupil-dilating thrill prompting meditative reflection in the way that art does and in the way the Strip cannot.
As one California traveler asked, "So, it's just a bunch of painted rocks?" Yes, but loaded with meaning and along the same Boulevard famous for its fabricated environments and recreated places. Cordoned off for now with construction fencing and signage, “Seven Magic Mountains” is a poignant work of art with a message that inspires contemplation, but with the wallop of a mid-20th-century roadside attraction luring drivers to the exit ramp with the promise of something spectacular.
To get to “Seven Magic Mountains,” drive 10 miles south on Las Vegas Boulevard from St. Rose Parkway.