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'Seven Magic Mountains' near Las Vegas is an Instagram dream

People visit the large-scale public art installation titled "Seven Magic Mountains" by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone about 30 minutes south of the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada in May 2016. (DAVID BECKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Published Jun. 1, 2018

We have all come to this spot in the desert for one thing: Seven Magic Mountains.

Two years ago last month, the large-scale public artwork by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone rose on this stretch of land roughly 30 minutes south of the Las Vegas Strip. The installation, seven towers of largely neon-colored locally sourced boulders of varying sizes and shapes, is hard to miss. (It's off Interstate 15, and there are several signs. There's a dirt parking lot at the site.)

Seven Magic Mountains has proved to be a popular attraction.

The exhibition, which reportedly cost $3.5 million and was privately funded, was supposed to "close" last month, but it has been such a hit with visitors (up to 1,000 a day by some accounts) that it will remain at least through the end of 2018. There is talk of extending it several years, and perhaps even making it a permanent addition.

There is something joyful and whimsical about this colorful expression of art — 33 boulders, each weighing 10 to 25 tons, configured into towers 30 to 35 feet tall — seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It's a welcome respite from the earth tones of pebbles and dirt and the muted green of cacti and other plants, delightfully popping off the figurative canvas in a most inhospitable place. Several mountain ranges loom in the distance.

And it is highly photogenic. The Reno (Nev.) Journal-Gazette estimates that more than 2 million people have taken selfies, or the like, at Seven Magic Mountains for Instagram. After getting a special permit, Vogue used the installation as the backdrop for a photo shoot in April 2017. Beyoncé, Jay-Z and daughter Blue Ivy have even been here.

On the day of my visit, the "photographers" are out in force, as are their subjects. There's the woman who performs a handstand against one of the towers. She also does a headstand a few feet away. Then she takes several photos of the couple who photographed her. Initially they stand in front of a tower. Next they stage their best "jump." There are several sets of parents who let their children climb onto the boulders, as if they're some sort of jungle gym, for pictures. A small sign asks people to stay off the artwork, but it's obvious from some of the worn paint that that plea has been ignored. I'm sure the sun and other elements haven't helped either. (Early on, vandals defaced some of the boulders with graffiti.)

So why did Rondinone choose this site?

Sevenmagicmountains.com says that, according to the artist, "the location is physically and symbolically midway between the natural and the artificial," the natural being the mountains, desert and dry lake bed backdrop, the artificial being "the highway and the constant flow of traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas."

"In the past, land art has been camouflaging art," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but "by giving a layer of color, we are bringing together the pop art movement and land art." Land art isn't entirely new to the Nevada desert. Michael Heizer and Jean Tinguely created works nearby in the 1960s.

I spend 30 or 45 minutes here, meandering around the towers and backing up, up, up into the desert in an attempt to get that perfect shot: the one with all seven towers — and no people. It clearly isn't in the cards, as there is a constant stream of visitors. Maybe I'll be back one day. I bet it would be lovely, and desolate, at sunrise.

Contact Dawn Cate at dcate@tampabay.com.

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