Theories abound over mystery metal monolith found in Utah

Structure compared to monolith featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey – and could it be the work of sculptor John McCracken?

A giant, metal mystery slab has captured the attention of millions, as people speculate over how such a structure came to be in a remote part of southern Utah.

The object was first spotted last week by a helicopter pilot and wildlife officers who were flying above the rugged area to conduct an annual count of bighorn sheep for the state. It immediately drew comparisons to the monolith featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as inviting suggestions it could be the work of extraterrestrials.

The helicopter pilot, Bret Hutchings, had the opportunity to see the big metal slab up close and guessed it was probably the work of an artist and between 10ft and 12ft high (about 3 metres).

“I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan,” Hutchings told local news station, KSLTV, which first reported on the slab.

The work was compared to those of many minimalist sculptors, including artist John McCracken, who died in 2011. A spokesperson for his gallerist, David Zwirner, told the Guardian the mystery object was not one of his works and said they suspect “it is a work by a fellow artist paying homage to McCracken”.

Zwirner, however, told the New York Times in a later statement that it could actually be a McCracken.

“The gallery is divided on this,” Zwirner said. “I believe this is definitely by John.”

“Who would have known that 2020 had yet another surprise for us? Just when we thought we had seen it all. Let’s go see it.”

One thing that is known is that without authorization, it is illegal to install structures or art on federally managed public lands, according to Utah’s department of public safety (DPS). This is true, “no matter what planet you’re from”, the agency said in a statement.

The agency said it does not plan to reveal the exact location of the object. “It is in a very remote area and if individuals were to attempt to visit the area, there is a significant possibility they may become stranded and require rescue,” DPS said.

That did not stop Reddit users from identifying its likely whereabouts, as well as discussing theories about the ways the object could have got there and why.

In zoomed in photos of the structure, Reddit users noted there were lines by its base which suggested a rock saw had been used to put it in the ground and that it appeared to be held together with screws, dispelling the theory it could be one large hunk of metal.

The structure also caused controversy in the geography world, which took issue with Utah’s government using the word “monolith” to describe the object.

A monolith is technically a geographic feature made of stone, while this slab appears to be made of metal. Merriam Webster’s dictionary, however, allows for a looser interpretation of monolith as “a massive structure” and it is the word used to describe the structure director Stanley Kubrick made famous in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So glad the news is finally getting back to normal

— NICK H (@n1ck_harr1s) November 23, 2020

Weird how these things always end up in places like picturesque and mysterious places like Utah instead of, say, a housing estate in Merthyr Tydfil or the lobby of a modestly priced hotel in Bangalore.

— Ian Hall (@DrIanHall) November 23, 2020


Amanda Holpuch in New York

The GuardianTramp

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