I first learned of Ugo Rondinone’s public art installation early one Sunday morning in October. While preparing for my family’s day trip to UCLA’s Fowler Museum, a morning news segment about Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains caught my attention that day. I was very excited to hear of Rondinone’s art installation because, like any public art installation, this larger-than-life display of carefully painted, infused and stacked limestone boulders would be a wonderful experience for anyone seeking inspiration, an endearing homage to the creative process for any artist. It was my goal to make to family trip to Sin City before the holidays.
Be careful of what one wishes for.
Later that month, I learned that my sister-in-law’s ovarian cancer did not respond well to her six-month chemotherapy treatments and she decided to cease further medical intervention. My parents, close family members and I were shocked to hear that our once vibrant and seemingly healthy McKay was given a gloomy prognosis of a terminally ill patient with two months left to live. By the time we visited her, McKay’s health had gotten considerably worse and was now under full-time hospice care. Our planned three-day weekend visit with her in early November was compressed to a very short thirty minutes so that McKay could rest comfortably and without pain.
She and my brother somehow managed to host our hasty visit by creating an itinerary of things to do during our stay in Las Vegas. Because of their suggestions, we visited Red Rock Canyon, Bonnie Springs Ranch and Silverton Hotel & Casino.
“What about Seven Magic Mountains? Have you guys seen it yet? It’s made National News.”
While they occasionally have seen it from afar (the public art installation is located right next to the I-15 just outside of the Las Vegas Strip), they have not made a point to visit the Seven Magic Mountains up close because its first public display coincided with the start of McKay’s cancer treatments the spring of this year.
We first visited Seven Magic Mountains while on our drive home to California. It was a sunny Sunday morning with no clouds in sight. The weather was a perfect 75 degrees and the upbeat energy of other visitors of the public art installation was infectious. Many people took pictures alongside the installation; others simply walked around it, admiring the many reiterations of how giant spray-painted boulders of varying size can be displayed and arranged differently, yet cohesively, together, to create these seemingly powerful seven Desert Titans. Even my children felt inspired to recreate the art by gathering and piling desert rocks naturally present in the area.
However, I found the experience somewhat melancholy because while I admired the beauty of the installation, I knew that the public display of the Seven Magic Mountains was temporary, and that it, too, would eventually be dismantled and be taken away from the desert. Although I will always be in awe of Mother Nature’s beauty, it was with the will of the Artist who created Seven Magic Mountains that patrons are reminded that we can collaborate for something more.
While my husband and children explored the desert surroundings, my silent introspection of my soon-to-be imminent loss of a family member gave way for a unique and personal experience for the Seven Magic Mountains visit. I pondered the idea of the Art being purposefully erected here to be just like my family’s relationship with McKay. When she became part of our family five years ago, McKay added joy, happiness and hope in our lives that complimented our family dynamics. Her gracious way of treating others with kindness and respect alongside her colorful experience as an outsider, how her humble upbringing and tenacious desires to contribute positively to the world around her, all of these instances inspired us to strive to become better people.
It saddened me to know that McKay did not have the opportunity to see this art installation as she passed away the evening of November 17, 2016. During our return trip to Las Vegas to attend McKay’s funeral, we observed our idyllic December drive to Nevada quickly change to that of fright as sandstorms and ominous dark clouds encircled our surroundings. We quietly drove to Las Vegas for hours wondering whether the harsh weather would allow for a reprieve during the scheduled funeral services the following day.
Before our scheduled Las Vegas arrival, I immediately noticed the art installation from afar. I asked my husband to take a slight detour so that we can visit the Seven Magic Mountains again. Despite the harsh windy weather, something compelled me to want to see it again.
Our second visit proved to be worthwhile. The harsh windy conditions and questionable clouds deterred folks from coming here, so it was as if the visit was meant for those who intentionally wanted to be here.
I wanted to be here.
The natural light of the desert sun was diffused by the faraway sandstorms and dark clouds. The whirling howls of the strong winds drowned any chance for human conversation. The unpleasant cold temperatures deterred the desire to stay outdoors for longer than ten minutes.
Yet the rainbow of limestone boulders stood still, waiting.
I thought about McKay at this moment, wondering if her spirit was here to share this experience with me. Maybe it was my memory of her, the lasting imprint of her grace and wonder for life, that compelled me to silently ask for the impossible.
“If you are here, show me.”
The winds blew even stronger than before, and the temperature grew colder within seconds. Suddenly, I noticed the break in the clouds to the West of us, enough for us to see the beautiful sunset.
My overwhelming sadness for the loss of a loved one, the worry I had for my little brother –how he was ever going to move on from losing a part of himself — and the personal sadness I had for McKay — as she was unable to do everything she desired in this world because of her untimely death at 39 years old — all of these silently buried sorrowful feelings disappeared at that very moment because something bigger than ourselves, the simple occurrence of the setting sun alongside this manmade art installation, reminded me that McKay would not want me to feel this way.
I often looked to art to help me find answers. I am grateful for the reminder that art, sitting alongside Mother Nature, can also help in dealing with grief. My second visit to the Seven Magic Mountains proved to also be very personal in that it helped provide the beginnings of a powerful healing experience for me. It was a good reminder to enjoy every fleeting moment.
While the story behind the making of Seven Magic Mountains is equally personal to the Ugo Rondinone, I hope that every visitor can experience something personally meaningful and magical, maybe even inspire a lifetime goal of seizing the day, yes, even while living in the daily life of chaos. The collaborative beauty of nature and man will be gone a year-and-a-half from now as Seven Magic Mountains will one day be dismantled and removed from the Nevada desert. Come see it soon. Your visit will indeed be worthwhile.
If you cannot visit the art installation, check out this video about the Making of Seven Magic Mountains. Perhaps it will inspire you to seek creativity or inspiration elsewhere.
Seven Magic Mountains by Ugo Rondinone
May 11, 2016 – May 11, 2018
South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89054
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