Really Tall, Really Long, Really Heavy, Really Big

September 27, 2011

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

Weston’s Modernism

August 16, 2011

Nestled in an intimate room in the Art of the Americas Buildings is a small installation of twenty-five images by Edward Weston that explore tensions between subject/form and light/shadow. The organic spontaneity of the different connections and comparisons in the show encourage engagement beyond the four walls of the exhibition space.

Edward Weston, Legs, 1934, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Edward Weston, Shells, 1927, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Indeed, Weston’s articulation of the painterly, the sculptural, and the architectural through the camera points to both the uniqueness of the photographic medium and the infinite possibilities contained in vacant shells, eroded boulders, and smooth expanses of uncovered skin. Weston’s Modernism stands out as an exhibition that is as much about the artist’s personal connection to his work as it is about the viewer’s experience. Not unlike Tim Burton, Weston’s intense focus, immersion into his practice, and aesthetic ethics make for work that is sensitive, personal, and inspiring.

Edward Weston, Eroded Rock – Monterey Coast, 1931, anonymous gift

While helping to finish the installation of the show, several pieces especially exemplified modernist perspectives. In particular, I was drawn to Eroded Rock. The weary lines on the surface, merging, crossing, and diverging evokes the passage of time, the endurance of nature, and most compellingly, the beautiful quietude of pure form. Eroded Rock and many more like it in the show are a must-see in their undefinable capacity for contemplation and appreciation. Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass and Eroded Rock, though different in their dimensionality, share a perfect timelessness through their stolid yet fluid presentation.

The 340-ton boulder which will be a part of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass

With many new projects coming up on LACMA’s campus, such as Levitated Mass’ arrival this fall, there will be many new things to see.  But to see what has always been around us in new ways continually revives and enriches Los Angeles’ diverse and vibrant art scene.

Kelly C. Tang, Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department

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