Really Tall, Really Long, Really Heavy, Really Big

As someone working behind the scenes at LACMA, I’ve been aware of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass for a long time now, mostly looking at drawings the artist made and hearing it described by the two people here closest to the artist and the artwork, Michael Govan and John Bowsher. So it was a great thrill last week to head over to the quarry in Riverside where one part of the artwork, a 340-ton boulder, currently resides. As you may have read in the Los Angeles Times last week, transporting this monolith is a challenge—to put it mildly:

LACMA is working with Emmert International, a company that specializes in moving “extreme objects” like nuclear generators and missiles, says project manager John Bowsher. Emmert is building a custom “transporter” around the boulder that will likely be 200 feet long and almost three freeway lanes wide. A road will first have to be carved out of the quarry; then the transporter will travel to LACMA at night, on closed roads and at less than 10 mph, led by a police escort. The approximately 85-mile journey, normally a one and half hour drive, will take a circuitous route lasting a week to 10 days.

Standing in the quarry and seeing the beginnings of Emmert’s transporter being assembled around the boulder, my sense of scale was thrown for a loop. The boulder, for instance, is 21 feet tall and 340 tons—that’s big!—but it was dwarfed by the larger mountain from which it was blasted a few years ago. Once it arrives at LACMA it will rise to the height of the Resnick Pavilion, its soon-to-be neighbor.

The boulder, with the beginnings of the transporter being built around it.

It’s also hard to wrap your head around just how large this transporter is going to be. But when I took this photo of a jeep parked next to the transporter, I got a better sense of its gargantuan nature. This is what “200 feet long and almost three freeway lanes wide” looks like.

Side view

Of course, the boulder is only one part of Heizer’s sculpture. I didn’t have to travel as far to see the other component: construction is well underway outside of the Resnick Pavilion for the 456-foot-long slot through which you’ll walk to experience the monolith rising above you.

The slot, under construction

456 feet. That’s big too. A little more than one-and-a-half football fields big. What you see above is only a portion of its length, as the entire slot has not yet been created–that’s because the boulder needs to roll through campus first, on that huge transporter, so it can be installed. We thought it prudent not to put a huge trench in the transporter’s way.

As construction progresses, and especially once the monolith arrives, the monumental presence, or monumental negative presence, of the slot will become more apparent to the concept of the overall artwork. As fascinating as it is to talk about the transport of the gigantic boulder, the artwork is not, simply, a boulder. There is an experiential component to the work, as you descend through the slot to a depth of fifteen feet on your approach to the monolith, pass under it, and then ascend to the other side. The walls of the slot itself are big–more than twice the height of the average adult!

Inside of the slot, in progress

Levitated Mass is still a few months away from being finished, so for the moment we’re still left to visualize what the end product will look and feel like. One thing is certain: it will be an experience not easily forgotten.

Scott Tennent

13 Responses to Really Tall, Really Long, Really Heavy, Really Big

  1. Anonymous says:

    when will it be “open” or erected for viewing and experiencing and I assume this will be permanent?

  2. Anonymous says:

    who is paying?

  3. Josh Giese says:

    What day and time is the boulder going to arrive at LACMA? What route will it take to get to fairfax and what time will it travel along the final leg? I’d really like to see this thing moving.
    Josh Giese/Miracle Mile

  4. lacma says:

    Hi all –

    The artwork was made possible by a handful of generous donors – ie, private funds. The transport should take place before the end of November but the exact date is tentative due to the complexity of the project – keep your eyes on Unframed or our Twitter & Facebook for alerts about the transport.

    It is definitely a permanent installation! We’ll have news about its exact opening date soon.

    Scott Tennent / LACMA

  5. G. Byers says:

    Did the entire $10 million or so plus transportation costs and reserves for damage caused by its transport, plus unexpected contingencies, ALL come from “generous donors” or are we taxpayers on the hook for this craziness? Your 2010 financials show tens of millions in “free to use any way” funds coming from the taxpayers. About half of LACMA’s revenue.

  6. Josh Giese says:

    Thank you Scott, Please do let us know the route and dates,

    I would be thrilled to drive out and see this thing along the way. Won’t it be parked in south central LA for a day?

    People may not realize it now, but this sculpture is going to be a great thing for the people of LA. It represents on one level, the independence, the reaching ambition, the capability, and the advanced thinking of the people of Los Angeles, at their best.
    Josh G

  7. cooke says:

    the installation will be the art, but the process is truly performance art at its best. Is it possible for LACMA members and others to see the transporter being built? it would be wonderful to see the thing in motion, it would be fabulous to see it “parked” en route. Ultimately it comes to rest at LACMA, but to see it pausing in East LA, South Central, Alhambra, etc would be to see the organic nature of the project……. 10mph, hmmm could we do a night bike ride and accompany the thing on its last leg?…..

  8. Ian A Cowan says:

    Headline: Large rock disappears in the LaBrea Tar Pit! Dinasaurs are disturbed.

  9. L Hudson says:

    Hmmm…. the LACMA website says that this “negative space” “speaks to the expanse of art history.” Well, I’d agree — as viewers walk down a trench with walls as high as two adults they won’t be able to see the world around them….. Perfect symbol for this “art.” You’ve got to have your head in the sand to spend $10M on a rock while people starve, die fighting and from drinking polluted water. But, hey! LACMA’s got a cool big rock! Niiiice!

  10. I am surprised about people’s reactions to the monetary side of this project. Art is something that should be invested in, along with all other good causes. Art transcends the human experience just as the exploration of space.
    In addition, mostly all Global Cities in the world have a “brand” attached to them (like Paris has the Eiffel Tower). Los Angeles in one of the top 10 Global Cities in the world and we lack a brand except for the “Hollywood celebrities”. Investing in art can be viewed as investing in the economy of Los Angeles.
    This work is going to be world renowned and as we continue to build up our LA art institutions this is what will make us a destination.

  11. John Estrada says:

    Sugar coat anyway you want, it represents as much as a rock can represent. Nothing more. What a waste of resources.

  12. Anonymous says:

    When anything can be Art, nothing can be Art.

  13. misterioso says:

    When everything can be “art”–nothing can be art.

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