The Guggenheim For a Guy with His Head in the Stars

The 2011 Guggenheim Fellows were announced- and part-time New Mexico sculptor Charles Ross is one. Ross who lives near Las Vegas, New Mexico in summer and in New York in winter, is an earth artist. His Star Axis in progress since 71 near Las Vegas is probably one of the lesser known (understatement) of the US earthworks (compared to Roden Crater by James Turrell, or Michael Heizers City) – possibly because Ross has been a more humble practitioner of the earth art form than those other two. (He had his first show in 1967 at Virginia Dwans Dwan Gallery. Dwan Light Sanctuary in Las Vegas, NM, on the campus of United World College, is another project that engaged Ross.)

Star Axis Star Tunnel

Star Axis is a naked-eye observatory whose orientation (the structure is 11 stories high; 1/10th of a mile wide) accentuates, highlights and makes palpable the fact of earths alignment with Polaris. Ascending a staircase called the Star Tunnel is how the body of a visitor exchanges with the mass of Star Axis, the price of admission, just like climbing the narrow stone steps to the plinth of a Maya pyramid in Uxmal or Chichen Itza is how you grab time in those places.

Being fearful of heights but not so much that I wont check out an art object or a pyramid, I did not expect (beforehand) that a trip up Star Axis would scare me lock-kneed, but it did. How come?  Because ruins hold tombs? Or that in the flesh its a crushing experience to be hemmed in by walls that are so massive?  In other words, the walls that wrap the stairs that in Rosss lexicon of what time means, span 26,000 years of earth:star history. They do nothing to mitigate the terror of the small. Turning at a threshhold which in the picture looks innocuous enough in real life is a seizing moment, not at all like a world monument fund soundbite. (Get me down, says a small aunt.)

“Viewing distant past and future aspects” is what the PR and Ross say when asked about the journey up the stair. I wouldnt know, focused merely on the will to keep breathing. Ross is not exactly on a race with time to finish this thing but of course all human life is sorta that, isnt it? This is a small note of congratulations, and you go, Charles.

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