“Levitated Mass”: Land Art for the Rest of Us

July 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

Levitated Mass 7/2/12/All Photos Hope Anderson Productions


A few days ago, I dropped by LACMA for my first look at the newly opened Levitated Mass, Michael Heizer’s suspended granite megalith. Popularly known as The Rock when it made its arduous 11-day journey from quarry to Mid-Wilshire in March, it has been transformed into art by its placement over a sloping 456-foot-long slot that allows viewers to pass directly under it. Having passed the boulder during the construction period, I had some idea of its immensity; what I didn’t know was how it would feel to walk through the slot. I imagined the walkway would be mobbed, much as the boulder was during its trip from Riverside County, and that crowds would be part of the experience. But on a Monday afternoon visitors were sparse, allowing me to dawdle and take numerous photos.

From the west


What amazed me about Levitated Mass–aside from the peaceful aura of a piece previously described as a “rock star”–was how different the boulder looks from different vantage points in the slot. Approaching from the west, it appears Matterhorn-like, while the eastern side appears comparatively flat and squat. I found it hard to believe it was the same rock. Also interesting is the walkway itself, a smooth concrete passageway so wide you could drive through it in a large pickup truck. (LACMA’s website has an interesting video about its engineering and construction that shows a mind-blowing amount of rebar.) When I was there, many of the visitors seemed as taken by its high walls, running their hands along the canted slots that run through each.

From the east


As far as I know, Levitated Mass is the only large Land Art work to be placed permanently on the grounds of an urban museum, a fact that can hardly be overestimated. By allowing the general public access to a monumental work that normally would be open only to a handful of curators, collectors and fans, LACMA and Michael Heizer have done a boldly democratic thing. And though Levitated Mass is an impressive work of Land Art, its greater importance lies in its accessibility.


Next: Two masterpieces of Land Art, and what it takes to see them.

Additional Source: http://www.lacma.org

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§ 4 Responses to “Levitated Mass”: Land Art for the Rest of Us

  • Viki Yamashita says:

    Great post. I have yet to go visit ‘the rock’ I even more drawn to it now.
    I was pleased at the public’s reception of this rock as it made it’s way to L.A. Judging by the exuberance and curiosity I experienced first hand it was clear that the cynics were far outnumbered by the fans (and even the uninitiated who were caught up in the whole process.) Watching it, in the middle of the night, with 300 other locals, as it made a magnificent, slow motion turn, restored my faith that the Arts aren’t on the path to extinction.
    In my (high school) art class we had great discussions about this piece. Probably for the first time in their lives students were making their own judgments about “what is art?” Cerritos was lucky to have the rock parked for a whole day. I offered an extra credit assignment to go view it. Far more students than I expected went to see it. Only one boy vehemently argued against its validity. It was great watching my students take over and rebuke his criticisms.
    I attended the “Rockapalooza” thrown by the Bixby Knolls business association. That was a hoot. They had bands and musicians on every corner. Every business and restaurant was poised and ready. It was insanely festive.
    Now the rock is at its resting place. After all the hullabaloo that it has gone through, it is a tranquil, yet awesome, piece for the public to enjoy and contemplate.

  • Wilbur Wils Hathaway II says:

    I love everything about this piece…except one element.
    The supports under the rock. Naturally that is where the human eye goes.
    These two (unidentical) parts break the line of the walls.
    Should the channel have been narrower, so that the supports were within the walls? Should the pit have slowly narrowed upon approaching the rock? the unfortunate result–as is– is 3 elements: rock,channel,supports…instead of two, which would have far greater power.
    This design problem breaks the simple/pure basic idea of the grand concept. It appears that an engineering issue was allowed to do major harm to such an ambitious,expensive,brave and inspiring piece. Sad.
    I’m aware that the artist was on site though it’s setup, so the fault lies w/him probably.
    Perhaps it’s different in person than in these photos,but I doubt it.

    • Thanks for identifying what keeps “Levitated Mass” from inspiring the wonder that “Spiral Jetty” and “The Lightning Field” do. There’s a big difference between a work of Land Art and a feat of engineering!

      • Wilbur Wils Hathaway II says:

        I’m glad you feel that way. I love LACMA & it was a noble effort. You can’t win ‘em all, of course.But to me the power of a great Egyptian pyramid or an Olmec head is the simplicity of form and mass. I seem to recall early sketches for this project sans supports. I would still like to visit it however, perhaps even regularly when in the area. For now Robert Graham’s Olympic Arch remains my outdoor L.A. fave piece.

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