I am in Beatty Nevada, doing an artist’s Workspace Residency at the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

It is currently day 4 of the residency and, frankly, I’m still trying to sort myself — and my environs — out.

Our residential quarters are quite wonderful — a little strange, but all mod cons including high speed internet.

The studio space is 4 miles away, at the Red Barn, donated to the Goldwell Foundation by the Barrick Gold mining company who mined the Barrick Bullfrog Mine, which has stripped the mountain to the east, creating a south-facing pyramidal mountain that I still haven’t gotten my camera around.

Here’s the Red Barn:

The photo was taken from Rhyolite, a ghost town within walking distance to the north of the Red Barn. The setting, as you see, strikes a bit of awe, maybe even fear, into the plein air artist.

Between the Red Barn and Rhyolite (a worthy topic in itself) is the Goldwell Open Air Museum. It consists of one boarded up shack with a stack of visitor’s guide in a box and a bunch of scultures, sitting unlabeled, unheralded, in the rubble-strewn, ghost-town desert.

The miner with his pickaxe looks to me a bit like Old Man Death in a miner’s hat. The shack is hiding the penguin who follows the miner. The art is “Tribute to Shorty Harris (1994) by Fred Bervoets. Shorty Harris was a legend in Rhyolite and so the sculptor gave him a penguin (out of site behind the building) to keep him company. Also the penguin is an attempt “to reflect the optimism of the mining endeavor” ( quote from the Visitor Guide). According to Richard Stephens, a Goldwell Board member, the sculptor felt somewhat out of place in the desert, so the penguin is triply appropriate.

The Lady Desert: the Venus of Nevada (1992) by Hugo Heyrman is done with cinderblocks to imitate the pixels the artist uses in his virtual computer work. In the background is Sit Here, a couch rescued from a Children’s Museum in Las Vegas and “lovingly restored and envisioned at Goldwell in 2007.”

The Ghost Rider (1984) was constructed by Albert Szukalski out of plaster-infused burlap, draped over a live figure until it set. Szukalski, well-known in Antwerp, Belgium where he originated, did a large set of figures (shown below) that  he built and unveiled at Rhyolite. Those groups were first installed in the Bonanza Hills, which subsequently toppled, either through a storm or by humans. So it was moved down the hill to the Open Air Museum site, and other Belgium artists made these additional pieces that became part of the space.

Icara, by Dre Peeters, “represents a female counterpoint to the Greek myth of Icarus.” It stands at the top of two utility poles. Far below is a wagon half-buried in the dirt, origin unknown.

The Last Supper (1984) (by Szukalski) was constructed because the Mojave Desert seemed to resemble the deserts of the Middle East. Szukalski originally wanted to site the Last Supper in Death Valley (the Park boundary is about 8 miles away). The sculptures are quite large when seen close-up, but they are dwarfed by the landscape into which they are set.

Szukalski died in 2000 and the Goldwell Open Air Museum nonprofit was formed to care for his work. The Museum operates the Red Barn, where printmaking and painting studios exist (that’s my space) for the next 6 weeks), and an occasional exhibit is open to the public.

I have been reading Erin Hogan’s Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West. In Spiral Jetta, Hogan talks about various “land” artists, like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer and their attempts to deal with scale, size, and time, particularly time, with its inevitable changes. I’m thinking that the Goldwell sculptures fit into Hogan’s contemplations. They are minute in the scale of their environment, like abandoned toys in a field.

They are also, however, very much of the observed environment, a place where, when you walk, you find that  humans have left bits of themselves everywhere  — rusting cans, glass (something about glass that has to be broken), pipes, wires, remains of telephone poles, old rail beds, hills pocketed with mining entrances and debris of mining tailings. These elements have worked themselves into the soil and so from a distance, in a car for example, the desert looks empty of human artifacts. Empty, except for these seemingly minute ghostly white forms and the pink Venus and the poles with glinting materials.

Rhyolite, Goldwell, the Bond heap leach mine, and Beatty itself, with its casino and trailers and sometimes surfacing, sometimes hiding, Amargosa River — all are turned to trash by the desert’s cold eye. The artwork isn’t that much different.

I’m sure to be regaling you with tales of paintings done and undone, of tragedies of terre verte and chasing hats yanked away by the desert wind. But yesterday, I walked the Goldwell acres, saw 3 kinds of cactus and a lot of scrub, traversed millions of rock chunks, and paid tribute to the sculptures at the Museum. So I’m sharing this day with you.

Thanks to Richard Stephens, who helped me correct a few errors and who has promised he’ll tell us of anything else that I’ve gotten wrong.