Unvailing Levitated Mass

The official dedication ceremony for Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass is set for 11am on Sunday, June 24th at LACMA. Christopher Knight of the LATimes has an early review of the work with photos by Mel Melcon (all the images used in this post). Knight’s piece is a solid review that pulls in a myriad of non-obvious precedents, potential influences and narratives that haven’t been part of the discourse to-date.

“Levitated Mass” is a piece of isolated desert mystery cut into a dense urban setting that’s home to nearly 10 million people. A water-hungry lawn north of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion was torn up and replaced by a dry, sun-blasted expanse of decomposed granite. A notched gray channel of polished concrete slices 456 feet across the empty field, set at a slight angle between the pavilion and 6th Street. Like a walk-in version of an alien landscape painting by Surrealist Yves Tanguy, quiet dynamism inflects a decidedly sepulchral scene.

What really, really surprises me about the installation are the hefty steel brackets that the monolith is mounted to. All preliminary descriptions evoked a rock sitting directly on the concrete walls of the trench, not mounted on massive steel corbels. The maximalist brackets are a significant shift towards structuralism and away from from Heizer’s minimalist material palette of soil, stone, and concrete (artificial stone). If hidden mountings and connections had been utilized for the rock (I’m thinking about Brian Murphy’s Hopper House) or other highly refined mininalist architecture, then we could have experienced the illusion that the boulder was hovering. As detailed, those gusset plates express the shear mass being supported and bring the levitating mass crashing back to earth.

Lots of architects have used similarly proportioned gussets with Cor-Ten structural elements – this is no Gehry, Eric Owen Moss, or Thom Mayne building though – perhaps Michael Rotondi is part of their lineage. (Here are some images of similar details: 1, 2). The artists that pop to mind from these brackets include Mark di Survero with his structural steel sculptures and Serra for his pioneering use of weathering steel.

The brooding sculptural ensemble marks time both cultural and geological. Adjacent to an urban art museum, repository for the relics of civilizations gone by, it’s also next to the La Brea Tar Pits, resting place for prehistoric bones sunken into the primordial goo. Unavoidably, it calls for contemplation of our transient place in the larger scheme of things.

Returning to the surface, other details emerge. The long channel is encircled by a lozenge-shaped line of Cor-Ten steel, embedded in the earth and rusting to a velvety brown. Decomposed granite, sloping gently toward the slot, seems like a forecast of the megalith’s slowly decaying future, reaching forward to its destiny thousands of years hence. The surrounding cityscape suddenly appears vain and fragile, the sculpture’s most affecting feature.

“Levitated Mass” isn’t exactly Stonehenge or Half Dome. It’s not even Eagle Rock. As monoliths go, the stone seems rather modest…

Now, that catalytic rocker stands transformed into a motionless, contemplative rock garden. If a megalith is a marker, Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” has what passes today for civilization squarely in its pensive sites. Certainly there is goodness in that.

Now, I just need to visit the rock for myself…

Also in the same edition of the LATimes is a profile of Heizer with this info about the opening:

“Levitated Mass” is scheduled to open with a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. When the ceremony ends around 11:30, visitors may begin entering the channel. After that, it will be open free from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, although guards can turn away people when it gets too dark. Word is that the channel can accommodate 456 people at once. [1 person per linear feet of the trench – that’s a bit too crowded for my tastes!]

“We are expecting a large crowd for the opening on Sunday,” said museum spokeswoman Miranda Carroll, who noted that they have prepared for 3,000 to 4,000 visitors. The museum is offering free admission to other exhibitions from Sunday to July 1 to anyone who lives in a ZIP Code along the boulder’s transportation route

A more mystical review invoking Stonehenge and science fiction by Brian Stallings is on KCET’s blog.

1 thought on “Unvailing Levitated Mass

  1. I have not seen the rock yet, but I want to.
    The first that that struck me were those big metal brackets, they appear almost as an afterthought like they measured it wrong or something.
    I do want to go see it as soon as time allows.

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