Art In A Sea Of Sand

Art In A Sea Of Sand
Seven Magic Mountains, Nevada Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Finding new art in the seabeds of ancient oceans

Labanya Maitra
April 07 , 2020
04 Min Read

Some might argue that the desert is a work of art in itself, and we tend to agree; especially when it comes to the great Mojave. I crouched under the white veil of Thaddeus’ Fiberglas robe to shield myself from the harsh sun, only to realise that there was a seat built in there, as though just for me. It was almost on cue that my fellow travellers joined me, each discovering their own little perch. Arnaud was Bartholomew, Tracie was Andrew, Constantina was Thomas, Charlie was Matthew…you get the idea. We were sitting inside a rather ghastly representation of da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Albert Szukalski's interpretation of da Vinci's Last Supper


The Mojave is the United States’ driest desert and stretches across northern LA County through southern Nevada. It’s a sand peppered with the remnants of boomtowns, now wasting away as ghost towns, it’s a land for testing weapons, and also speculating about aliens. And amidst all these sterile-sounding landscapes thrive the endemic—and adorable—Joshua Trees.

And while this desert might be a thing of beauty in itself, that hasn’t stopped it from attracting artists from around the world, looking to draw their own lines in the sand.

Set along the far-off upper Mojave, the Goldwell Open Air Museum is a roughly ten minute walk from the ghost town of Rhyolite. This unique, one-of-a-kind display of art is scattered across the thorny landscape at the foot of the Bullfrog Mining District, on the hillside below Daylight Pass.

Installations at the Goldwell Open Air Museum

The seven massive sculptures—spread across nearly eight acres—were created by a group of Belgian artists, led by Albert Szukalski, starting 1984. The sculptures are meant to be a part of the landscape they were created in and are supposed to be interpreted as part of it. The Last Supper overlooks a 25-foot tall woman, constructed entirely of pink, yellow, and other pastel-painted cinder clocks. There’s a larger-than-life mosaic couch, which provides a perfect view for the 24-foot prospector and penguin made of steel; a nod to the region’s mining history.

20-foot-tall cinder block lady at Goldwell Open Air Museum

Way, away in the distance, you can make out a tiny structure in the endless wilderness: the Red Barn Art Center. True to its name, the red barn offers artists' programmes, which allow them to live and work in the premises for projects that require a challenging and dramatic landscape. This sculpture park is open all day, every day, and visitors can explore these unique works of art, free of charge.

As you make your way up north to Rhyolite, you’ll immediately spot the Tom Kelly Bottle House. As miners moved out of Rhyolite, Hollywood moved in. In 1926, Paramount Pictures commissioned the restoration of this house, built entirely out of 50,000 medicine, beer and whisky bottles embedded in different kinds of mortar. A lot of the bottles were Adolphus Busch products, now better known as Budweiser.

The Tom Kelly Bottle House

But that’s enough about Rhyolite. Let’s move on to the iconic, scenic highway that takes you straight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles—Interstate 15. If there were ever any big-city dreams to be fulfilled, rest assured, many a hungry soul traversed this highway in search of that fulfillment. And the perfect pit-stop came in the form of the Seven Magic Mountains.

Ten miles outside of Sin City lies Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s public art exhibit. The seven, giant, fluorescent towers stand about 30 feet tall and are made up of anywhere between three and six different-coloured limestone boulders. Reminiscent of the tall skyscrapers of Vegas and LA, this exhibit is placed at the intersection of the Interstate-15 (symbolising the artificial) and Jean Dry Lake against the mountain ranges and desert (showcasing the natural). The “mountains” represent the broader meeting of the natural with the artificial.

Seven Magic Mountains

So, the next time you’re out exploring the wonders of nature in the Mojave, don’t forget to take some time out to take a look at the creative wonders of man hidden out there as well.

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