Really Tall, Really Long, Really Heavy, Really Big

September 27, 2011
uncategorized

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