Michael Govan on Levitated Mass

LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan was among the speakers at Sunday’s dedication ceremony for Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. Exclusively on Unframed, we offer a transcript of his remarks from the historic event:

Michael Heizer, Levitated Mass, conceived 1969, realized 2012, made possible by gifts to Transformation: The LACMA Campaign from Jane and Terry Semel, Bobby Kotick, Carole Bayer Sager and Bob Daly, Beth and Joshua Friedman, Steve Tisch Family Foundation, Elaine Wynn, Linda, Bobby, and Brian Daly, Richard Merkin, MD, and the Mohn Family Foundation, and is dedicated by LACMA to the memory of Nancy Daly. Transportation made possible by Hanjin Shipping Co., © Michael Heizer

I and many others have compared this sculpture to the megaliths of the earliest Neolithic peoples, to the granite monuments of Ancient Egypt, or even the colossal stone portrait heads of the oldest cultures of the Americas that we exhibited when we opened the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion that stands behind me. Those great objects recall the beginnings of art and human civilization.

It became a matter of pride, first for the ancient Romans, and then in the nineteenth century for Paris and London, to take Egyptian stone obelisks to mark their cities as great powers. Indeed, in the 1880s, envious of those European cities, New York procured at great expense and, as always when big stones are moved, thousands marveling at its transport by sea and then through city streets to its current home in Central Park next to what was then the new site of the fledgling Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Turning the Obelisk, taken from Henry H. Gorringe’s book “Egyptian Obelisks,” 1885 (London: John C. Nimmo), plate XXVII

Well, I am happy to say that in twenty-first century Los Angeles we need not envy European or other cities. We live in the most creative city on the planet, with more artists living here now than any city in human history. Out metropolis is distinguished certainly by the automobile, but also by perhaps the greatest diversity of cultures to ever gather in one place.

And we have the confidence to work with a California-born artist, Michael Heizer, to create a landmark for our own time and place—made from a California rock, and with the collaboration of contemporary skilled engineers and builders.

The artist here has created a thoroughly modern artwork, abstract, and challenging the traditional notions of sculpture. I can read it as a series of visual and visceral oppositions: weight and lightness, mass and emptiness, up and down, solid and line, organic and human-made, nature and culture. You will read it your own way. It makes the impossible possible. As the artist said to me: “When do you ever get to see the bottom of sculpture?” For me, it’s better than those ancient monuments because it is not an expression of the power of gods and kings, but rather of people—of the museum visitor that descends into an empty abstract space defined by linear concrete walls to see the monolith from below, virtually levitating in our beautiful California sky.

It is a monument to our own time and place, and our own aspirations as people. And, being made of stone, concrete, and steel, and engineered to withstand time, perhaps it will be here millennia forward to communicate those feeling to future civilizations.

I would like to thank most especially, the artist, Michael Heizer, for his inspiration, and this artwork he has given us.

Michael Govan

30 Responses to Michael Govan on Levitated Mass

  1. Paul Shindler says:

    Sculpture??? It is certainly a testament to out times, but it’s not a good one. And to mention this in the same breath as Roman and Egyptian creations – are you kidding?

  2. artgod1 says:

    Levitated. Are you kidding me? Is this some colossal joke?

    Hello art crowd, it’s a rock laying on two walls. That’s it. Nothing more.

  3. Amber says:

    The rock has no clothes.

  4. This speech is beautiful.

    We need artworks like this. Our world is all too often guided by ephemeral thoughts, and the art world also mirrors this terrible tendency. But sometimes, some artists are able to change that. Michael Heizer is one of them. His art is actual, overwhelming, profound, timeless, unfashionable. We need artists like him. We need Sustainable Art. Land Art is Sustainable art. Land Art is Time Art. http://obsart.blogspot.fr/2012/02/time-art.html

    Thank you again to all people involved since 2006 in this incredible project. Yesterday on paper, last year on the way, now on the run, quietly, built for (at least!) 3500 years, in the real world (and far from the virtual one, even if Heizer speaks about illusion)

    Levitated Mass is now in an “expanded field” that strangely looks like a piece of the Nevada Desert, reappearing in the heart of one of the most fascinating cities of the world.

    We just hope nobody will put any trees or vegetation around the trench. It would be a crime.

    All our best
    Long life to the Rock!

  5. artgod1 says:

    Hey Observatoire du Land art

    Come to my house, I have Land Art everywhere! Rocks in the rain gutter, pebbles on the patio, dirt on the driveway, earth in the entry! Please write ridiculous praise for me and tell the world of my talents! C’mon over Obsevatoire!

  6. Anonymous says:

    it ain’t heavy, it’s my boulder

  7. @artgod1:

    Thank you for you insightful and very constructive comment… But you speak about your garden and we speak about art. We are sure this garden is marvellous, but don’t forget that Land Art is not Landscape Art: they are two different things, according to most of pioneer landartists like Richard Long or Jan Dibbets (see: http://obsart.blogspot.fr/2012/02/land-artv-exhibition-sfb-150469.html) and of course Michael Heizer.

    If you don’t want to be “ridiculous” (we use your term, sorry if you think we are rude), you may read this other article: obsart.blogspot.fr/2012/02/tsunami-memorial-levitated-mass-072011 A rock can be more than a rock, notably when it is not admired in-situ.

    —”all art is commemorative” (Michael Heizer, in Julia Brown, Sculpture in Reverse, MOCA, 1984)

    The “Tsunami memorial” “built” in London is of course just one example. No doubt there are many others case of rocks that have been displaced in order to materialize an idea, a feeling, an emotion.

    Have a nice day.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, Im with artgod1 on this one…..Come on any object can be thought of in the same way. That doesn’t mean it should be on display.

  9. Richard Crawford says:

    I generally love Michael Heizer. (I again will look at ALL his earlier work.) However, this is a wrong-headed, modern take on what we humans do with nature. The rock should not have been moved from it’s environment. I will not say more.

  10. artgod1 says:

    I love the video of the giant truck hauling the “Art Rock” around. Seems the truck driver had more to do with this than Michael did.

  11. Richard Crawford says:

    I recommend a book: Plant Spirit Medicine, by Eliot Cowan

  12. Richard Crawford says:

    Trees, Animals, Rocks (even!) have intelligence. Different from ours. Malidoma Some, African Shaman who wrote OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT told me trees “travel”. Some (pronounced So-May) has doctorates from the Sorbonne and Brandeis. He has taught at the Univ. of Michigan. We Western Folk like credentials.
    Anyway…one man’s art is another man’s……


  13. Paul Shindler says:

    What the Egyptians and Romans STARTED with, we are calling finished sculpture? Hello, anybody home?

  14. artgod1 says:

    Hello Paul. You’re right! I just bought a can of paint. Does that make me one of the Masters?

  15. Anonymous says:

    “Does that make me one of the Masters?”: poor Artgod1, what an egocentric guy. That’s just normal he doesn’t understand Heizer…

  16. artgod1 says:

    You’re right, Anonymous, I don’t understand. Putting a rock on a cement ditch is art? Please convince me that this is art.

  17. Paul Shindler says:

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when this amount of time and especially money, is wasted on non art. Have we really sunk this low?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Artgod1, check out art history. The question about what is art and what it is not is fully outdated… This is boring.
    Do you need a guide or a leader to live your life and/or to appreciate art? Heizer’s art is just an experience of the world. Call it art or not, that’s not the point.

  19. Levitated Mass (from 1968 to 1983), the “prehistory” of the project now updated. Scarce documents…

  20. artgod1 says:

    Anonymous: “The question about what is art and what it is not is fully outdated… This is boring.”

    Who put you in charge of determining what is boring? What a pompous point of view. IT’S A ROCK ON TWO LEDGES. It’s a big joke and you are the punch line.

  21. M. Wills says:

    Come on ….. stop the negativity! Or what you will term your personal thoughts and your right to them……let it be what it is and calm down. I loved it at first sight and support its existence.

  22. Paul Shindler says:

    So someone picks out a huge rock in the desert, a LOT of other people move it and get it mounted on this concrete walkway – and he viewed as a superb creator? It gives weight to that great line by the late Marshall McLuhan – “Art is anything you can get away with!” How true.

  23. Well, it’s been a few months since Levitated Mass has debuted, is it the massive draw to LACMA as envisioned by LACMA’s management? Or, is it a monument to the gullibility of people in the art world who so freely spend other people’s money?

    David Hockney, Henry Moore, Eric Fischl: YES!!!

    Non-descript boulder: No.

    Hey, maybe eventual erosion of the boulder’s surface will reveal the face of the Madonna in a few years.

  24. Paul Shindler says:

    A note of caution. One does not want to be experiencing the wonders of Levitated Mass during an earthquake.

  25. Tam3@yahoo.com says:

    Traditional art, meaning paintings on walls or sculptures on tables, in many instances was merely decoration for a home or public building. Such things were objects to be looked at (allow me to repeat that: something that is to be LOOKED at), to fill up space, to cover up otherwise empty sections of a hallway, or to smooth over bare spots between a foyer and living room.

    In other words, when you get right down to it, the type of art that most people immediately think of as — or equate with — ART has, in its own right, a somewhat superficial or frivolous background. So installing a large boulder in an artificial setting actually is not all that different from “art” as most people define it, meaning it’s a variation of hanging a painting on a wall or installing vases on a fireplace mantle, etc.

  26. Paul Shindler says:

    So Tam, according to your theory, REAL art by gifted people(Rembrandt, Picasso, etc.), is in your words “superficial or frivolous”, so therefore this dusty boulder hung over ugly concrete is more significant? And these other things were merely “to be LOOKED at”, I guess meaning “looking” at great art is not a very valid aesthetic experience, in your world anyway. And I guess you are suggesting that being under this rock, with maybe thought of being crushed by it, is a greater experience? What do you call it – “almost” performance art? The twisted thinking by the promoters of this rock is more entertaining(and creative) than the rock itself. Perhaps that was the goal all along.

  27. artgod1 says:

    Much better and FREE! Cleaner – didn’t have to drag it around on a truck.


  28. Danny Johnston says:

    I have Lived My Life in Southern California (!950) Bloomington California, Was and Is, My Home. I Grew up and played in and
    around The Sand & Gravel Pits and Rock Quarries That Produced The Materials that Would become The Great Cites of Southern California. Freeways the Highways And Highrise’s The Jetty’s and
    Harbors The Concert Halls The Court House’s And The “Museums”
    I For One Think that a Great Work of Art as this has been long overdue
    I stood and Looked At This Beautiful Structure And The Big and Bold Mass Of Riverside Granite That Stands above it And gazed at it’s Surroundings of all The Tall Buildings This is the Perfect Home For This Grand and Historical Monument. Generations yet to Come will Look at this and Marvel and They will Know without a Doubt Why this Is Here
    Mike Heizer Is a Visionary. A Special Kind Of Person that if
    you get to Know him even a little bit You Feel Honored

    Danny Johnston

  29. Richard Crawford says:

    This is wrong headed art. Rocks should NOT BE MOVED from their natural environment. Rocks have their own INTELLIGENCE. LACMA, the artist: both are simple minded.

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