Coralie Bickford-Smith — A Love Story

by Sally Steele

Designs by Coralie

Designs by Coralie





The Boulevardiers have a new friend, Coralie Bickford-Smith ~ the book designer.  When you read about Coralie and her magnificent work, if you don’t know Coralie yet, you will be envious of our friendship. Don’t despair, it’s ok to fall in love, read on…!


Coralie, photograph by Tom Lehman

Coralie, photograph by Tom Lehman


In Coralie’s words from her website: “I am Coralie Bickford-Smith and here is a bit about myself. I graduated from Reading University after studying Typography and Graphic Communication. I currently work  at Penguin Books. Amazingly my book covers have been recognised by the AIGA (NY) and D&AD (UK) and have featured in a numerous international magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Vogue and The Guardian. The work I did with Penguin Classics on the clothbound series has attracted worldwide attention and harkens back to the world of Victorian bindings and a golden age of book binding.”


The Fox and The Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith

The Fox and The Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith


Cover by Coralie

Cover design, by Coralie





“I have just written and illustrated my own book The Fox and The Star, published by Penguin in August 2015.

I have been commissioned by a wide range of clients including The New York Times, Marks and Spencer, Waterstones and Diageo.”





The Fox and the Star

The Fox and the Star


Waterstones Book of the Year is Coralie Bickford-Smith’s debut The Fox and the Star. “Inspired by the poetry of Blake, Bickford-Smith’s picture-book fable about grief is awarded top prize for its ‘great physical beauty and timeless quality.’ “

Once there was a Fox who lived in a deep, dense forest. For as long as Fox could remember, his only friend has been Star, who lit the forest paths each night, But then one night Star was not there, and Fox had to face the forest all alone.

A story about love, loss and learning to accept change. The Fox and the Star is Coralie’s first work as an author/illustrator.


Design by Coralie

Cover design, by Coralie


Tell me about Coralie the young girl, and the young artist?

I remember painting my own copy of Andy Warhol’s banana at the age of 6. I blue-tacked it above my bed. I remember it being very important to me for the reason I loved bananas a lot and Andy Warhol had made such a great job of painting my favourite fruit. I wish it had been because I was a Velvet Underground fan at the age of 6. I painted the banana on grey sugar paper and the yellow paint was beautifully bold against it. I was always making things, drawing and painting. I painted what I loved. I remember cans of fizzy drinks eventually making their arrival into our home and I drew and drew these cans obsessively.


When did your love of books emerge, and was there one memorable childhood read?

I was surrounded by books as a child, my mother had an enormous respect for them. When we visited our grandparents we all went to our favourite second-hand book shop and got to choose any books we wanted for our holiday reading. It was a big deal and extremely exciting. My sister was really into The Famous Five and I was totally into The Secret Seven books. It all sounded so cosy and the home made lemonade sounded divine.


Did you know where you were heading when you got to University, and if not, when was your direction clear?

Yes, by the time I was going to university I had found my direction. University gave me the confidence to follow my chosen direction, it gave me the possibility to dream for the first time, that I might actually become a designer. There were tough times but I had people who were supporting me who made sure I never dropped off the radar. I belonged to a group of people for the first time who shared my passions and I had never thought it was possible that I would fit in anywhere.


What was the first big break in your career?

Everything that I experienced was a small step towards a career that I now love. There was never a pivotal moment where I felt like I had a big break, which early on in my career was frustrating. But everything I learned fed into the next thing and so on. I appreciate all the experiences I have had and am yet to have as I am constantly evolving and growing.


Which project established you firmly in the industry?

Design by Coralie

Penguin Classics covers, by Coralie

I think the Penguin Cloth Classics were the series that seemed to resonate with people the most. I love the material we use, the cloth with the matt pigment foil stamped into the covers. This is the work I get the most emails about from collectors eager to learn what new titles I am working on.


Which project has most stretched your creativity?

Pastry box, by Coralie

Pastry box, by Coralie

Every project has stretched me creatively in its time. I am never happy or satisfied, always picking holes in my own work. Always striving. So the last project that stretched me was The Fox and The Star. Now it is the idea for a new book. I am already having great waves of anxiety about my abilities. I think this is normal as if I was content with my work I might lose some of the magic that people see in it. I always want to be stretched creatively, it means I’m alive.


What inspires your eye?

All sorts of things, I have anthropomorphic tendencies that trigger something in me creatively. I find myself examining objects lying out of context in the street. How does it feel? What is its back story? When I approach book covers I like to think about the whole object not just the design. I like things to come alive and tell their stories.


Are you having fun with The Fox and the Star attention?

The attention is beyond my wildest dreams, but its about letting the book go and moving on to the next project. I love the process of creating. I think that the attention that Fox is getting means he now has his own life, and in a way I am no longer part of him. I have to let go like he did. I want the book to be what it needs to be for the people that relate to it. A message of hope and positivity that is now separate from me.


The Fox and the Star

The Fox and the Star

…Thank you to magical Maeve Mullally for her friendship and for always finding & sharing the best of everything…

David Ireland with Broom Collection (1978)

David Ireland with Broom Collection (1978)


The first time I had the honor to walk into the home at 500 Capp Street of the renowned artist in 2001, about whom I knew very little, I realized it was a special place. I was introduced by the Director of Crown Point Press, Valerie Wade, a friend of Ireland. Ireland was elderly then and none too nimble, but with engaging and riveting eyes. The home was sparse, but rich with colors, details and art installations. He grew up in Bellingham, Washington, a son of an insurance broker whom he joined for a brief period before pursuing his artistic career. He also formed an African import business, titled “Hunter Africa.” Ireland began his education locally but soon traveled to California, where he remained until his death, to attend the progressive California College of Arts and Crafts. He also later attended graduate school on the GI bill, at the San Francisco Art Institute where he met many of his life-long, influential friends.


Wire Wall Drawings 500 Capp St. SF, photograph by Kim Steele

Wire Wall drawings, 500 Capp Street, SF,
photograph by Kim Steele


Ireland’s work is difficult to categorize.

He employs many sensibilities in his work which makes it unique. “Like a great Naturalist, who sees life in the landscape when others see only trees, David Ireland has an uncanny ability to find art in forgotten histories and cast-off materials,” observed by Richard Andrews, Director of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington. Ireland’s choices of materials were of commonplace materials, wood, dirt, paper, concrete and discarded objects – chairs, wire, stones, and rudimentarily constructed objects. He harkens to an aesthetic found in the Japanese word Wabi-sabi, a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence… specifically impermanence. When he first moved into his home, he intended to restore it, but the process evolved into a dialog between the building and his artistic expression.


Dining room Still Life at 500 Capp St. SF, from Ireland's African days

Dining Room still life, 500 Capp Street, SF, from Ireland’s African days

Understanding David Ireland’s sensibilities, it is not surprising that he was a devotee of the great master of the ‘found object,’ Marcel Duchamp. In his home, he had several references, including photos of the artist. Ireland came of age in a very volatile era of American art – the 1950’s. This was the hey day of the first American art movement that globally affected the art world – Abstract Expressionism, in which he did not practice but it cast a long shadow over many artists working at that time.  Though concentrated in New York, San Francisco had its share of influential artist, most significantly Clifford Still, Nathan Oliveira and Richard Diebenkorn. Ireland’s first concentration was printmaking, which he returned to two decades later. Ireland also worked at set design at this time.

At an early age, Ireland was influenced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. It sowed the seed that would follow his life long interest: the interaction of life and art. Ireland: “I think art making is a matter of finding things out and not considering practical issues…”. His interest in Minimalism came during his Masters’ education, under his advisor Kathan Brown (who went on to found Crown Point Press which printed many images for Ireland). Minimalist interest led him directly to his life-long passion for ‘reductivism.’

The 1970’s was a heady time, and painting was not in fashion-it was the performance era. At this time, Ireland returned to the art world after his commercial enterprises and attended the SF Art institute, at age 42. Tom Marioni influenced him greatly.  Marioni’s  Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco, the first to exhibit both video and sound art in the country – feed his own creativity. Marioni instigated ‘Relational Aesthetic’ which was based on real life dynamics, often beer drinking with friends. (Marioni will have a beer piece at the soon to be opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in May). Marioni quoted to this author in an interview, that Ireland, “was very charming and the most eligible bachelor in San Francisco.” This exposure introduced him to the flux of art as an evolving enterprise, to mold and re-visit time and time again – nothing is permanent. Dadaist in theory, Marioni’s work crossed several art categories, even until his death.


Interior upstairs hallway, 500 Capp Street, photograph by Henrik Kam, 2015

Interior upstairs hallway, 500 Capp Street, SF, photograph by Henrik Kam, 2015


Joseph Beuys was clearly the most influential artist to Ireland. Incorporating common objects, furniture, clothing and everyday implements; this created a sort of sounding board to our perception of art. The Beat generation of the 1950’s in San Francisco indirectly coached Ireland to adopt a Zen Buddhism influence, “I was trying to…give credence, give place to all things, give place to the uneducated image, give place to the earth, give place to everything” claimed Ireland. Alan Watt’s book The Way of Zen, liberated Ireland from the confines of arbitrary delineations of art (a copy of this dog eared book still sits on his shelf at 500 Capp Street). He eschewed the formal concerns of art.

This brings us to the present. Ireland purchased his Italianate home in the Mission District of San Francisco in 1975. An accordion maker had occupied it. His sign still remains on the building.


500 Capp Street, San Francisco, photograph by Kim Steele

500 Capp Street, San Francisco,
photograph by Kim Steele


David Ireland chose to allow the decrepit nature of the home to become an evolving art piece, like an archaeologist. “I think it’s the manifestation of creativity particular to David,” said Lawrence Rinder, the director of the Berkeley Art Museum. “ Art occurs in the process of life itself.” Exampled by one of his most famous pieces “Dumbbell,” which consisted of Ireland tossing a glob of concrete (one of his favorite material due to its grayness) from one gloved hand to the other until a perfect ball was formed.


David Ireland creating his Dumbbells

David Ireland creating his Dumbbells


Carrie Wilmans saved the house from destruction in 2008. She and her team restored the home to the intended nature of Ireland. New spaces were created, like an excavation of the basement where Ireland had dug dirt for his pieces, into a study space while shoring up its derelict brick foundations, but the Zeitgeist was maintained, complete with pealing paint and lacquered walls. Wilmans did not know him well, but claimed that he once suggested they run away together, “he was a total flirt.” The intention was not to “preserve” the home but provide a fluid space for visitors and art functions – a living museum, if you will. “I sealed it forever,” Ireland noted, “to protect it from the attacks of the future.” The home will be open to the public on January 15th, 2016, by appointment only. There are many related events, including a retrospective at the Anglim Gilbert Gallery on January 20th. The uniqueness of Ireland’s aesthetic is a very endearing submersion into a life richly lived.


Dining Room at 500 Capp Street, SF, photograph by Kim Steele

Dining Room, 500 Capp Street, SF,
photograph by Kim Steele


Happy & Beautiful Holidays to all our Boulevardiers & Readers…thank you for another inspiring year!



The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

The Boulevardiers recently did London, from top to bottom, Shakespeare to the Houses of Parliament, to Bond Street & Saville Row, to museums, many, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is really one of the wonders of the art world. We are still reveling in its exquisiteness, and gasping at the treasures seen within.

When you combine the regal collection, the imposing building, with it’s quirky history, you get one of the richest art museum experiences possible. This is a must visit when in London, we went twice during one week!

The V&A can and does speak for itself, literally, with wit and style, and in so many ways, including on it’s glorious website. Read, revel, escape, visit, and give generously when you do!

The raincoat and headscarf worn while riding in a British tank in Germany in 1986 are also up for sale

The raincoat and headscarf worn by Dame Margaret while riding in a British tank in Germany in 1986 are up for sale.

BBC, November 6, 2015:

The Victoria and Albert Museum said it was “stupefied'” by reports that it had turned down the chance to exhibit Margaret Thatcher’s clothes. Earlier this week, it was reported that the London gallery had turned down the opportunity to acquire some items from Baroness Thatcher’s wardrobe. The museum was quoted as saying it only collected items of “outstanding aesthetic or technical quality”. But Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of the V&A, said no offer had ever been made. Coleridge, who took up the role of chairman on Tuesday this week, said there was “stupefied surprise” at the V&A about the Daily Telegraph story. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme there had been “no letter, no meeting, no judgement… no overture of any kind… and no turning down of her clothes at all”. He added that neither he, nor the previous chairman, nor the museum’s trustees knew anything about it…More than 300 items are due to be sold at auction next month instead. Lady Thatcher died two and a half years ago. She was the longest-serving premier of the 20th Century and Britain’s only female prime minister to date. The clothes, to be auctioned by Christie’s, include her blue velvet wedding dress and various power suits worn during her tenure in Downing Street, plus handbags and jewellery. “Lady Thatcher was an iconic figure who used fashion as a political weapon and certainly knew the power of clothes”, said Coleridge. “It seems to me rather appropriate that one or two of those power dresses and Thatcher handbags should be there alongside Elizabeth the first’s clothes and Charles the first’s execution shirt”.


Silver Collection, The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections span two thousand years of art in virtually every medium, from many parts of the world, and visitors to the museum encounter a treasure house of amazing and beautiful objects. The story of the V&A’s foundation helps to explain its astonishing richness and diversity.

The Museum was established in 1852, following the enormous success of the Great Exhibition the previous year. Its founding principle was to make works of art available to all, to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. Profits from the Exhibition were used to establish the Museum of Manufactures, as it was initially known, and exhibits were purchased to form the basis of its collections.

The Museum moved to its present site in 1857 and was renamed the South Kensington Museum. Its collections expanded rapidly as it set out to acquire the best examples of metalwork, furniture, ceramics,textiles and all other forms of decorative art from all periods. It also acquired fine art – paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture – in order to tell a more complete history of art and design.

Generous funding and a less competitive art market than today’s meant that the young Museum was able to make many very important acquisitions. The Museum itself also grew, with new buildings being added as and when needed. Many of these buildings, with their iron frames and glass roofs, were intended to be semi-permanent exhibition halls, but they have all survived and are one of the finest groups of Victorian buildings in Britain.

In 1899, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of a new building designed to give the Museum a grand façade and main entrance. To mark the occasion, it was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum, in memory of the enthusiastic support Prince Albert had given to its foundation.

Throughout the 20th century, the collections continued to grow. While expanding its historical collections, the V&A also maintained its acquisition of contemporary objects, starting with a collection of Art Nouveau furniture in 1900.

The Museum’s ceramics, glass, textiles, dress, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, sculpture, paintings, prints and photographs now span the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa, and date from ancient times to the present day.

The V&A also reflects the diverse nature of contemporary Asian cultures, collecting contemporary Asian art and design as diverse as Japanese studio crafts and Indian film posters.

Contemporary design has always been at the heart of the V&A’s work and the Museum remains true to its founding mission of promoting excellence in design and manufacturing. It works hard to encourage contemporary designers, acquiring their work, and providing inspiration through its displays.

Many of Britain’s most successful designers have used the V&A as a source of ideas and stimulation and visitors to the V&A have the opportunity to see their work alongside the historic collections which helped shape them.

Henry Cole, the V&A’s first director, declared that the Museum should be a ‘schoolroom for everyone’. The V&A today offers visitors the chance to explore more deeply by using its study rooms, guided tours, gallery activities, lectures and special events. Whether you want to enjoy the galleries independently, or get more closely involved, there are many ways to discover the delights of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Holiday cheer, The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

Fun Facts:

~Queen Victoria really wanted to call the V&A the ‘Albert Museum’.

~The Museum was built in part of Brompton, in the western outskirts of London, but the Museum authorities re-christened the area South Kensington, which sounded more fashionable.

~The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 owns the site of the V&A, and of the nearby Science and Natural History Museums, Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music and Royal Albert Hall. The area, dubbed ‘Albertopolis’, was bought partly out of the profits of the Great Exhibition.

~The first Director, Sir Henry Cole, described the Museum in 1857 as ‘a refuge for destitute collections’. More than a century later Sir Roy Strong called it ‘an extremely capacious handbag’.

~The South Kensington Museum was the first museum in the world to provide a public restaurant.

~Some of the mosaic floors in the Museum were made by ‘lady convicts’ in Woking Prison. Museum staff jokingly gave the mosaic a Latin name, ‘opus criminale’.

HORSLEY, John Calcott, R.A. (1817-1903), Christmas card, design in 1843. Reproduction of the first Christmas card, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London, c.1945, Colour process engraving. E.1993-1953, Bequeathed by Guy Tristram Little

HORSLEY, John Calcott, R.A. (1817-1903), Christmas card, design in 1843. Reproduction of the first Christmas card, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London, c.1945, Colour process engraving. E.1993-1953, Bequeathed by Guy Tristram Little

~The V&A owns a copy of the first commercially produced Christmas card, which was invented in 1843 by the Museum’s first Director, Henry Cole.

~The V&A was the first museum in the world to collect photographs as art, beginning in 1856.

Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square, daguerrotype by de Ste Croix, M.

Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square, daguerrotype by M. de Ste Croix

~The V&A has the earliest photograph of London, a view down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square (before Nelson’s Column was built), a daguerreotype taken by a M. de St Croix in 1839.

~Queen Victoria was said to be shocked by the nudity of a full-size plaster-cast of Michelangelo’s ‘David’. A suitably proportioned fig leaf was made, and hung on the figure using a pair of hooks when dignitaries visited. Today, the fig leaf is no longer used.

Raphael, born 1483 - died 1520, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Luke 5: 1-11)

Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Luke 5: 1-11)

~Contrary to popular belief, hardly any of the V&A’s collections belonged to Queen Victoria or Prince Albert. The most notable exception is a famous series of paintings, the Raphael cartoons, which were loaned by Queen Victoria and are still on loan from the present Queen. The Raphael cartoons were too large to evacuate during the War II and were bricked up into a protective shelter.

~In 1913 militant suffragettes threatened to vandalize collections in public museums and galleries. The V&A considered banning women visitors, but instead decided to protect the collections by increasing visitor numbers. Entrance charges were dropped to help achieve this.

~As part of its outreach programme to young people, the V&A became the first museum in Britain to present a rock concert in July 1973. The V&A presented a combined concert/lecture by British progressive folk-rock band Gryphon.

~In the late-19th century the Museum consulted expert outsiders to help assess new acquisitions. They were called ‘Art Referees’, and included artists and designers such as William Morris, Owen Jones, Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

~The worst scandal in the V&A’s history occurred in the 1950s when a member of staff was found to have stolen several hundred objects, including a number of swords which he smuggled out of the Museum down his trouser legs.

~When the V&A first displayed examples of Art Nouveau furniture in 1901 there was such controversy in the art establishment that the furniture was banished to Bethnal Green. It was displayed with a notice warning design students not to imitate this radical new style.

~In the early 1980s, after a flood in a basement store, damaged books were taken and put in freezers at Harrod’s department store until they could be restored.

~A rare incident of a V&A object self-destructing occurred in 1998. A tin of Biba-branded baked beans, part of an archive of Biba packaging and graphic design, was found to be corroded, but before conservation could take place the tin exploded.

~There are seven miles of galleries in the V&A.


Public Library, The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

The origins of the Museum are as complex as the building itself. They date back ultimately to 1836, when a report by a House of Commons Select Committee concluded that the arts were not receiving enough encouragement in Britain and little attention was being paid to the importance of good design.

In response, the government decided to set up a network of design schools and establish ‘museums of art’ that, unlike most other institutions in Britain at the time, would be open to the public without charge. They would contain examples not only of ancient art but also of ‘the most approved modern specimens, foreign as well as domestic’.

The first school opened in London in 1837. Called the School of Design in Ornamental Art, it was housed in the top of Somerset House on the Strand and had a collection of plaster casts and ornamental art works for the instruction of students. By 1851, however, the School no longer had enough space for its students or its growing collection. A young civil servant called Henry Cole was asked to look into the problem and in 1852 he took over as General Superintendent.

The First Room at Marlborough House, watercolour, William Linnaeus Cassey, 1856. Museum no. 7279 CIS. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The First Room at Marlborough House, watercolour, William Linnaeus Cassey, 1856. Museum no. 7279 CIS. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London







With a commitment to reform and an interest in the improvement of artistic taste, Cole made some decisive changes. The most significant was to move the plaster casts and ornamental art works to Marlborough House, a property in Pall Mall that Prince Albert loaned to the School. The collection was called the ‘Museum of Manufactures’ and was soon joined by the School itself.

Cole and his chief ally, Richard Redgrave (a former temporary headmaster of the School of Design), then assembled a display of what they judged to be outstanding items of pottery, porcelain, majolica, glass and metalwork. This, they hoped, would create public demand for ‘improvements in the character of our national manufactures’.

To prepare visitors for this lesson in good design, they set up the first room as a ‘Chamber of Horrors’ with a range of ‘utterly indefensible’ everyday decorative objects, such as a burner condemned for the fact its ‘gas flamed from the petal of a convolvulus’.

TSir Henry Cole, photograph, unknown photographer, about 1858 - 1873. Museum no. E.207-2005. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Sir Henry Cole, photograph, unknown photographer, about 1858 – 1873. Museum no. E.207-2005. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London









By 1854, the collection of the Museum of Manufactures was so large that Cole and Redgrave decided they needed new premises. They found a solution in ‘Albertopolis’, a site just south of Hyde Park that had been purchased with profits from the 1851 Great Exhibition. Here, Prince Albert intended to combine all Britain’s learned and artistic societies on one vast site, but the plan had stagnated in the face of political hostility and indecision.

In February 1854 Cole (who had been a key figure in the development of the Great Exhibition) approached the prince about the possibility of a temporary museum building in the south-east corner of the site. This was then a rural, out-of-the-way area on which stood four buildings that made up Brompton Park House, originally built for Queen Anne’s gardener. The buildings were now empty and decaying, and by June of the following year it was decided to erect an ‘iron house’ in their place.

Today’s V&A is a sumptuous & serious testament to its history and to its founders. The V&A is what all museums should aspire to. It has withstood the test of time. Here’s to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, good taste, and their museum!

1854: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a re-enactment of their marriage ceremony. Prince Albert is in military uniform and is wearing his medals

1854: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a re-enactment of their marriage ceremony. Prince Albert is in military uniform and is wearing his medals.



MICHAEL HEIZER: The man who moves mountains

by Kim Steele

Michael Heizer on his desert ranch with Potato Chip Credit: Isaac Breeken, New York Times

Michael Heizer on his desert ranch with Potato Chip, photograph by Isaac Breeken, The New York Times


THE MOST PROMINENT EARTH SCULPTOR IN THE WORLD, Michael Heizer has experienced a resurgence in his work, as evidenced by his recent exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York this summer, which The Boulevardiers had the pleasure of viewing.

As a neophyte in art reviewing, just awarded my NEA grant as an ‘emerging critic,’ I reviewed his piece on the Seattle waterfront, titled Adjacent in Myrtle Edwards Park, in 1976. I also witnessed some random rocks propped up next to the new Federal Building in Seattle as well, and wondered about the nature of art? It seems random and purposeless.



Adjacent, by Michael Heizer


“If you want to see the Pieta, you go to Italy.
To see the Great Wall, you go to China.
My work isn’t conceptual art, it’s sculpture.
You just have to go see it.”
-Michael Heizer


by Michael Heizer

Seattle Federal Building installation, photograph by Kim Steele


As a young adult, I stretched to understand the meaning of art and it’s impact. His most monumental project ‘City’ still stands as one of his most formidable projects, comparable to the Giza Pyramids, is a life long project started in 1972, it is located in Nevada, his home state, and comprises of five phases, each consisting of a number of structures. Now proclaimed by him finished. “He designed ‘City’ to disappear into the landscape, to blend in to Garden Valley. The connection between art and nature is palpable.” (NYT)


“As long as you’re going to make a sculpture, why not make one that competes with a 747, or the Empire State Building, or the Golden Gate Bridge.”

– Michael Heizer


Heizer viewing "City," Garden city, Nevada credit: Michael Govan, New York Times

Michael Heizer viewing City in Garden City, Nevada;
photograph by Michael Govan, The New York Times


Heizer instructed at UC, Berkeley for thirty years while residing in Nevada near his project City. Despite that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a freind is the best-known example of ‘earth art,’ in the Great Salt Lake, Utah; he has become the most renowned sculpture working on this scale. His work is comparable to the more noted, Richard Serra, but much more sublime.


“I think earth is the material with the most potential because it is the original source material.”

– Michael Heizer


Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson

Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson


Heizer creates a dichotomous relationship between the earth and his invasive sculptures which are often massive stones and metal, some worked and some simply excavated from the land. The Boulevardiers visited the recently installed earthwork at the LA County Museum of Modern Art (LACMA), Levitated Mass, and felt the gravity and imposition of weight and space that signifies his work. It comprises a 340-ton boulder squatting above a concrete trench. The transport of the rock became a documentary. Nonetheless, it does beg the question of why is it there and what purpose does it serve. It seems a bit of Disneyland.

His other most monumental work is Double Negative. It consists of two cuts of fifty feet deep, cut into opposite cliff edges of Mormon Mesa in Nevada, which displaced 240,000 tons of sandstone and rhyolite.


Double Negative, by Michael Heizer

Double Negative, by Michael Heizer


An earth artist coming indoors is challenging. But Heizer triumphs in his “negative wall sculptures,” chunks of ore rock. They were in the Gagosian Gallery show this year. They are placed inside 14 inch niches on a grand scale, and at a diagonal. He claims that they are prompted by a desire to “create an absence and then refill the same void.” Heizer had not had a gallery represent him for years when Larry Gagosian approached him.



Potato Chip (negative wall sculpture), by Michael Heizer, Gagosian Gallery, New York, photograph by Kim Steele


There have been some threats to his artistic well being. A train line was proposed to through Garden Valley to transport nuclear waste. This has stalled, partially by the efforts of his Senator Harry Reid, Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate. Reid proposed legislation to protect the area, which was opposed by Republicans. He has appealed directly to President Obama to declare the entire region…three-quarters of a million acres as the Basin and Range National Monument.

In 1995, Heizer was diagnosed with a neurological disorder known as polyneuropathy, which reduced his ability to use his hands. Despite this, Heizer currently resides with his second wife, Mary Shanahan, near the City site, and continues his work on the project to this day.

Michael Heizer is an artist who challenges us to move from the comfortable spot of appreciating art. As a neophyte in art viewing and criticism, I peered at those rocks in my home town on Second Avenue and scratched my head. I have always been a proponent of making an effort to appreciate and understand art that sometimes does not come easily. I have heard the tired and annoying adage “I know what I like.” As well as boasting that ones instinct is sufficient to critique art. I disagree; of course within bounds, but when an artist is universally revered, like Michael Heizer, an effort must be exerted. Contrarily, an artist like Jeff Koons, who is universally celebrated, with silly sculptures around the world, whom I believe to be a hoax and an example of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but nonetheless, worthy of examination. A lesson to be learned in both cases.


Michael Heizer, Altar 1, Gagosian Gallery, New York

Altar 1, by Michael Heizer, Gagosian Gallery, New York, photograph by Kim Steele





When in Milan … Expo 2015

September 19, 2015


The Boulevardiers have been to EXPO 2015. We were impressed, surprised, entertained, humbled, underwhelmed, treated to a world-class press tour of the Switzerland pavillion, in awe of the Korea pavilion, left with big thoughts, and big questions. Sustainability, the ifs ands and buts are resoundingly evident at EXPO 2015, more here. Does this drive all […]

Read the full article →

Flaming June, and other Pre-Raphaelites

July 19, 2015

Sir Frederic Leighton’s 1895 painting Flaming June. Photograph: Museo de Arte de Ponce

“PAINT the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.” John Ruskin The Guardian, Friday, May 1, 2015: A remarkable study for Flaming June, one of the best known of all Pre-Raphaelite paintings, has been discovered hanging discreetly behind a bedroom door in an English country mansion. I […]

Read the full article →

John Heartfield…Abandoned in a field by his parents as a child…

May 29, 2015

Nascido Helmut Herzfeld

  “I lost my parents in 1899 and thereafter lived as an orphan with different families.”   John Heartfield managed to rise to a distinguished career as a graphic designer after a very challenging childhood, founding a publishing house, Malik-Verlag in 1917, with the renowned artist George Grosz, one of this publisher’s favorite artists.  Both […]

Read the full article →

Emancipation & Esteem

May 27, 2015

Juneteenth Flyer Musician

65th Annual SF Juneteenth Celebration Commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation “The Journey Continues” Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas in June 1865, and more […]

Read the full article →

Save the date: May 9th, 2015 ~ Fondazione Prada

May 8, 2015


On May 9th Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco 3, Milano, will be open to the public from 10 am to 9pm.     Once a former distillery, in the industrial south section of Milan–8,900 square meters, it is now the home of the biggest, and arguably, this city’s most exciting contemporary art space. The new location […]

Read the full article →

In the Studio: Photographs

April 11, 2015

Photograph by Constantin Brancusi, 
View of the studio: Plato, Mademoiselle Pogany II, and Golden Bird, c. 1920; © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

  An ambitious exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, curated by Peter Galassi, rustles up many issues. As Roberta Smith quoted in the New York Times: “…trophy-curators. Clout is definitely on display here, contributing to that heady combination of overt excellence and subtle vulgarity that may be something of a Gagosian specialty.” The […]

Read the full article →