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June 27, 2012

Los Angeles scrapbook: Levitated Mass unveiled

Michael Heizer's megalithic outdoor installation, Levitated Mass, opened to the public Sunday on a crystalline day.

It is monumental in size, yet minimalist in feel, situated at the northwest corner of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 20-acre campus: a 340-ton, granite boulder poised (and bolted) to the walls of a 456-foot-long concrete walkway, centered in a field of decomposed granite. The visitor ramp/walkway descends to 15 feet below the rock, giving the viewer a rare underside perspective of the artwork. (Not that the bottom of a chunk of granite is so much different from the top or sides...) 

It's possible that the mass does seem to float as you walk towards it, but the conditions on opening day were not conducive for that effect, as is obvious from the picture below. (Photos by Mike Rogers) That's Heizer in the yellow polo shirt and park ranger-style hat, surrounded by photographers.

The dedication was a carnival, organized for picture-taking, civic pride and congratulations. The museum café served a special cocktail, the Dwayne Johnson (aka the Rocktail), a mixture of pisco acholado, chamomile syrup, lemon juice, egg white and bee pollen. After the speechifying, a red ribbon was cut and hundreds surged onto the walkway, or "slot" as the press release calls it. We inched along shoulder-to-shoulder. Creeping claustrophobia sent me threading fast through the crowds toward the exit. Contemplative viewing will have to come later.

Museum officials would not say whether Heizer would actually attend, so it was a surprise that he showed up. Then again, of course! He first conceived Levitated Mass in 1969 and it reportedly cost $10 million to find the appropriate boulder, transport it 105 miles from the quarry and build the installation. It's reasonable he would want to bask in its completion and public unveiling. Though he made no public comment, he participated in (endured? He looks pretty stony-faced below) a video interview with museum director Michael Govan.

It was a good day, too, for Govan; local politicians and the co-chairman of his board of directors sang his praises. He has managed to take control of an unwieldy institution that had been riven for years by leadership vacuums and internal disagreements over the museum's best future course.

Goven whirled into town in 2006 with plans to bring the museum into greater cultural significance. LACMA had played second fiddle since the Getty Center opened in 1997. Part of his plan seems focused on securing additions that make it a "destination." Chris Burden's Urban Light installation, 202 antique street lamps that were added in 2008, for example, quickly became a visitor meeting spot. 

Levitated Mass clearly serves a number of purposes, too, but it is a much different work. It transcends the publicity of its size and cost, and the gimmickry of its slow and circuitous transport through the county to its final resting place. It retains the majesty it had in nature, and yet has been transformed. The geometric severity of Heizer's design does work magic on the senses. Heizer has calibrated the space with exceptional care. Many art pieces claim to expand the senses and the observer's viewpoint. This work lives up to the promises. 

June 27, 2012 11:47 AM | | Comments (0)

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