Seven Magic Mountains

A dynamic duality—monumental Land Art in the natural world
A dynamic duality—monumental Land Art in the natural world

Leaving Las Vegas you might, like us, miss the turnoff sign for Seven Magic Mountains. But you can’t miss seeing them—ginormous, 30-35-foot-tall neon-painted totems towering in the barren desert looking like massive stacks of florescent marshmallows.  One of the largest land-based art installations in the US in the last forty years. Worth the U-turn for Rove-Inn.

Rove-Inn was the reason we stopped in Vegas—she was complaining on steep mountain roads. Not for us the neon glow of Las Vegas, its pulsating playground of cacophonous casinos and smoky strip clubs. When the doctor gave Rove-Inn the all-clear, we were on our way out of there to the stillness of desert canyons alightened by spring wildflowers.

These seven colossal cairns are deceiving.

Reminding me of inukshuks, Seven Magic Mountains appears both monumental yet unbalanced, meditative but tipsy.

From a distance you can’t really tell what the vari-coloured totems made of. Styrofoam? Cement?

The gravity-defying sculptures are stacks of three to six car-sized boulders. There are 33 in total. Locally sourced, each limestone boulder weighs at least 20,000 pounds—the more massive rocks are a hefty 25 tons. Each sculpture is secured with a steel backbone. Their scale is humbling.

Each rock is coated with automotive paint in one of the seven Day-glo colours plus black, white and silver. Don’t the bright primary colours remind you of building towers with children’s building blocks?

As you might imagine, it took an army of consultants and engineers five years to realize these mammoth structures, the work of a Swiss artist, the internationally renowned Ugo Rondinone.

Ugo chose this location, 10 miles south of Las Vegas Boulevard on Interstate 15, because it’s “physically and symbolically mid-way between the natural and the artificial.”

And what a contrast: psychedelic rainbow colours on the dust-brown desert, tall hoodoo-like structures on the flat landscape. “They’re completely artificial in a natural environment. That contrariness appeals to me,” Ugo says.

Daily, eight million people travel this Interstate between Vegas and LA. Ugo has also said, “Seven Magic Mountains recall stone cairns marking the way for travelers passing through unfamiliar landscapes.” Some read this land art as “a creative critique of the simulacra of destinations like Las Vegas.”

Seven Magic Mountains stands on three acres of federal land managed by the BLM, so you can imagine the consultation process before construction could begin.

Land Art started in Nevada in the 60s so it’s fitting that the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno commissioned this work, which was erected  by New York-based Art Production Fund. It opened in May 2016. Initially, the contemporary totems were meant to be installed for just two years. However, their wild popularity (two million photos on Instagram in that period!) has resulted in the ephemeral becoming permanent—Seven Magic Mountains has a 20-year extension.

Seven Magic Mountains. Why did Ugo use the word “magic” in his poetic outburst of columns and colour? Is it because of the magical link he’s created between ancient geological formations in the Vegas Valley and the technicolour city that arose 65 million years later? As he says, “Seven Magic Mountains elicits continuities and solidarities between human nature, artificial and natural, then and now.”


Seven Magic Mountains website.

If you’d like to find out more about the artist, here’s Ugo’s website.

And to hear Ugo talk about Seven Magic Mountains check out this YouTube.

6 Responses

    1. For sure. Some locals hated it so much at first that they plastered the totems with graffiti. Then the tide turned and a volunteer vigilante group formed to watch over them.

    1. If I remember correctly, I think we read about it in a travel magazine that had a tiny blurb about them around the time it opened three years ago. Probably too far out of Vegas (10 miles or so) for most vacationers there unless you had a car.

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