Art and aviation

Count Guido Roberto Deiro

Photo by Brad Bynum

Count Guido Roberto Deiro was a pilot and businessman “heavily involved with aviation matters in Nevada,” when he met Michael Heizer, an influential artist producing land art, large-scale sculptures using the raw materials of the Earth. Deiro and his wife, Joan, are donating their archival collection of original conceptual drawings, candid photographs and other materials to the Nevada Museum of Art’s newly launched Center for Art + Environment.

Tell me a little bit about Michael Heizer and his work.

Heizer is the foremost artist and sculptor of the land art, or earthwork, movement in the world. The evidence to support that fame is included in this Deiro collection. The collection is unusual in that it is composed of drawings, sketches, writings, photographs, transparences, correspondence, critical reviews, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, art publications, bound retrospectives, text books, prints, posters, engineering plans and other original ephemera that documents the first 40 years of this man’s rise to prominence as the guru of earthworks. And almost all of that major work was done here, in the state of Nevada.

Do you think there’s something specific about Nevada that would inspire land artists?

Yes, absolutely, because Nevada … Nevada is uncluttered, in that it is such a large state and yet one can lose oneself in it. It’s a state that allows freedoms. Our state—which I was born in—at one time had no speed limit on the highway. The freedoms that, whether your morality objects or not—the freedom to drink, the freedom to divorce, the freedom to gamble, the freedom to hire a prostitute, the freedom to start your own business, the freedom to go where you want to go, do what you want to do—this state is all about the freedom of expression and the freedom of satisfaction of your desires. In other words, there are no restrictions here. Michael Heizer is dealing with art that doesn’t have any restrictions, and so Nevada is the place—you know, he can come here, and he doesn’t have to fit into a scene, and so the validity of his works have resulted in receiving some of the most prestigious awards and commissions ever given a contemporary artist.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you connected with Heizer.

After the army, I did many different jobs. I ended up learning how to fly airplanes as well as working in the gambling business—I had multiple careers. It was at the time that I was working for Howard Hughes as director of aviation facilities in Southern Nevada that I had occasion to meet Michael Heizer. … I was exposed to Heizer accidentally. I was shown one of his works—an incision done in a dry lake that really captured my fancy. I decided I wanted to be involved. So I dovetailed my activities through my life. … And the site locations that I came up with dealt with Nevada because I was most familiar with it. And Michael loved Nevada and wanted to stake his claim and do his work in Nevada.

Another role that it seems like you did was site photography.

The notoriety surrounding Michael Heizer’s use of Nevada as his canvas has had international implication for this state which are refreshingly positive—which we could use. Observers worldwide are rethinking their image of Nevada and its citizens. From cowboys to cutting image sculpture, this is an interesting state. These are positive thoughts that people have when they see serious people invest serious money in serious art—and it’s good. One thing that I’d like to say—and I’m trying to sound profound, but this is truly how I feel—is that the intelligensia have always held that where great art is located is a reflection of how far evolved are the people that live with it—and Nevada has great art.