When Ugo Rondinone’s towering Seven Magic Mountains first opened, in 2016, the Ivanpah Valley desert outside Las Vegas hadn’t seen anything like it. The installation comprises seven 30-foot-tall locally sourced limestone cairns that reference natural rock formations and punctuate the sprawling Mojave Desert with poetic bursts of form and luminous colors that comment on Sin City’s signature bright lights. “To find the right spot for the installation, we drove down Interstate 15. About 30 minutes outside Las Vegas, it’s just a state of desert,” Rondinone told Surface at the time. “It’s silent. There’s just the presence of the sun. At some point, I saw, as we were going back to Las Vegas, a long stretch of land. I thought, Oh, that’s it! I could produce the sculptures there.”
Though more than two million people have visited the eminently Instagrammable artwork since, millions more drive by it every year, making it one of the most visible works in the history of Land Art. It continues to be so popular among tourists and locals alike that the Nevada Museum of Art, which commissioned the piece with New York’s Art Production Fund, is currently applying for a new permit so it can be displayed for another five years. (Originally, it was only supposed to display for two.)
“When conversations around removing it began to bubble up, it became apparent that Las Vegas and the world had fallen in love with it,” David Walker, director of the Nevada Museum, told The Art Newspaper. “The work takes a lot of attention and money, but we’re proud that after five years we continue to make the artwork free to the public, and are happy to see how much joy it brings to our region. All of us want to continue to see the work where it is for as long as we can keep it there.”
The region’s arid climate means the work frequently weathers harsh conditions. Its environmentally friendly pigments haven’t held up too well in Nevada’s extreme weather, having faded over time due to micro-sandblasting from constant winds and summertime temperatures that often rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To bring the work into its next chapter, public access to the site is being restricted while Rondinone’s studio works directly with restorers to clean the totems with water tanks and repaint them. For now, visitors can still view the piece through at least May 14.