When I first heard about these giant rainbow gumdrops in the middle of the desert, I really didn’t think much of them. I thought this would be just another popular spot for all the instagram models and Kardashian wannabes. But I guess what isn’t nowadays?
On my recent trip to Las Vegas on Interstate 15, just a few miles before arriving to Vegas I noticed the installation was still in place. I knew that it was supposed to be taken down earlier this year, so I was a bit surprised and decided to do some research when I arrived at my Airbnb.
I learned that the sculptures were called “Seven Magic Mountains,” a work by a Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Not a name I was particularly familiar with, but I was glad to know that it wasn’t something random. I was intrigued to learn more about it.
According to their website (sevenmagicmountains.com), the exhibition was originally scheduled to be on view for 2 years, starting May 11, 2016 but due to the incredible success, the artist has expressed a strong desire to explore ways to keep the artwork on view at its current site. I mean, it’s not like it’s blocking any traffic.
So the exhibition will stay open to public at least through the end of 2018 and the producers are still working on ways to keep the artwork on view at the current site for a few more years or even permanently.
I had about half a day in Vegas to myself before I driving out to Death Valley, so I thought maybe finally I’d check out the artwork in person.
The exhibition is about 10 to 12 miles south of the strip. You can either take I-15 South to Sloan Rd. and drive additional 7 miles south on Las Vegas Blvd., or just take Las Vegas Blvd. all the way from the strip.
If you’re coming from Los Angeles on I-15 North, take exit #12 to Jean, turn right on NV-161 toward Las Vegas Blvd. and then drive 5 miles north. I’m writing this with the Californian accent by the way.
You will probably notice these highlighter-colored rocks from several miles away so you won’t need to worry about directions too much. I remember thinking that they seemed a lot smaller than what I saw in the pictures, but landscapes in the desert can be quite deceiving. I don’t know if you’ve ever been hiking or rock climbing in the desert but you could be walking for hours toward something you thought was only about a mile away.
Anyway, once I parked my car in the parking lot and walked up to the sculptures I realized, I was absolutely right! The place was FILLED with instagram models and Kardashian wannabes. Sometimes I wonder if high schools started teaching modeling classes or if my generation just completely lacked self-esteem. I’m only 31 but I’m often amazed by how people act in front of a camera nowadays.
Up close in person, the sculptures were about the sizes I expected. They were about 30 feet tall, and each layer of rocks varied in height anywhere between 4 to 8 feet.
I saw a bunch of unusually well-dressed girls posing in front of the rocks while their boyfriends or “business partners,” I should say, were talking pictures with their smartphones in various positions. Some small kids were climbing up the rocks with their mom helping them while their dad holding the camera. This one guy started flying his drone behind me and then we were hit by some rain and sandy desert wind. I wonder what happened to that drone.
According to Rondinone, the location is physically and symbolically mid-way between the natural and the artificial: the natural is expressed by the mountain ranges, desert, and Jean Dry Lake backdrop, and the artificial is expressed by the highway and the constant flow of traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Although at its current state, I felt it couldn’t get any less artificial if the Grand Canyon was next to it.
I was actually a fine art major before I decided to pursue graphic design as my career. Although I have been a bit detached from the art world since college, I’m not usually the one who questions whether or not something qualifies to be called “art” until I fully understand the artists’ intent.
In design, there’s always a clear “a-ha” moment when the audience “gets” it. A design that’s not intuitive or makes the audience or a user question the intent of a designer is not a good design, nor even a design at all. A good design should serve a clear purpose, not let the user figure it out. I was having a hard time reaching that “a-ha” moment.
And then the forgotten artist in the back corner of my right brain started screaming, “It’s freakin colorful rocks in the desert. Just shut up and enjoy it, you pretentious ungrateful prick.”
Maybe I was focusing too much on how this is supposed to be art. Maybe I shouldn’t think that it needs to serve a purpose. Maybe the very fact that it doesn’t have a purpose makes it art.
Rondinone has said in an interview, “it’s not something intellectual, it’s just something to experience. I always say you don’t have to understand an artwork, you have to feel it.”
I used to think that the purest form of art is self expression. I used to get annoyed whenever someone asked me to explain to them what my paintings meant. To be honest, I probably wasn’t even trying to “explain” something with my paintings. I was simply expressing how I felt. It didn’t matter to me if my paintings fit any experts’ definition of what art should be.
Rondinone’s quote reminded me of my paintings. Made me wonder how I would have reacted to my own paintings if I saw them for the first time today.
I guess at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I or anybody else think about it. Today, even companies like Google aren’t free from criticism whenever they change their logo.
Now, time to go post my pictures on Instagram...
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 16-35mm F4L IS USM