Since the art installation Seven Magic Mountains appeared in 2016, it has welcomed at least 2 million visitors.
About 10 miles south of Henderson, Nevada, along the busy highway for long-haul truckers known as I-15, a different kind of roadside stop has emerged: seven neon-bright towers of stacked boulders, like cairns left by giant hikers in an empty desert. Since the art installation Seven Magic Mountains appeared in 2016, it has welcomed at least 2 million visitors.
“They almost look like people — giant, nice, gentle people,” Swiss-born, New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone told CBS Sunday Morning. He designed the piece nearly a decade ago for a commission from the Nevada Museum of Art.
Standing as much as 35 feet high, the stacked rock towers that make up Seven Magic Mountains glow against the mountains in the Ivanpah Valley like a child’s colorful toy blocks. Each of the seven towers consists of three to six boulders, one painted more brightly than the next.
Unlike his Rockefeller Center public art project, Human Nature — made of boulders left in their natural state and constructed to resemble the human form — Rondinone approached Seven Magic Mountains with a different sensibility. “I wanted to make it with natural materials but make it artificial,” he told CBS Sunday Morning. “Seven Magic Mountains elicits continuities and solidarities between human and nature, artificial and natural, then and now,” he says.
Which is why when it came to choosing colors for his project, he went with the brightest of all. “Day-Glo is the most artificial color that you can get,” Rondinone says. “The color is very restricted to the seven rainbow colors, plus black, white, and silver. The rainbow colors, this color spectrum, is for me a holistic system. Seven Magic Mountains stands in stark contrast to its surroundings. It’s a given that when you put something in contrast with another, it elevates the other part. So I hope that people who look at the piece will extend their view to the landscape around Seven Magic Mountains and will appreciate the landscape of Las Vegas.”
Rondinone used limestone hand-picked from a nearby quarry, carving and shaping it into enormous 40,000-pound “boulders,” then painting them and threading them together with a backbone of steel. In all, 33 boulders were carved, colored, and stacked to create the work, which took five years to complete. It’s one of the largest land-art projects completed in the United States in more than 40 years.
Seven Magic Mountains is both land art and pop art, Rondinone says. It could be cairns, a hoodoo, or a study in meditative rock balancing. It might even be a monolith. Its wildly popular appeal may have less to do with what it is and more to do with what it calls to mind with its simplicity and playfulness. Maybe it reminds us of stacking rocks — or blocks — as everyone has done at one time in their lives. Maybe it elicits the mystery and joy of discovering art in unexpected places. Whatever the magnetic draw to these giant glowing rocks in the Nevada desert, Rondinone’s seven mountains are at once familiar and surprising — and magical.
“It’s not something intellectual,” he told CBS Sunday Morning. “It’s something you have to experience. You don’t have to understand an artwork. You have to feel it.”
Seven Magic Mountains, produced by Art Production Fund in New York and Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, will remain on view through December 31, 2021. For more information on the installation, visit nevadaart.org.
Photography: (All images) Courtesy Nevada Museum of Art
From our April 2021 issue