Levitated Mass Details

‘God is in the details’ to quote Mies, and some of the details and craft of Levitated Mass are the devil. If art can be defined by the highest level of craft, then more should be expected from Michael Heizer’s team – especially the engineers and the welders. Almost seems that the trench was designed before they found the rock, and the brackets were the ‘make-it-work’ solution with some of the sloppiest welds this side of a vocational school. So here is a rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Levitated Mass installation at LACMA.

Concrete – the good

The concrete work is highly refined at the level of a James Turrell Skyspace (but not equal to Tado Ando or other concrete masters), with a very smooth skimcoat on all exposed surfaces.  I’m puzzled by the triangular notches at the ends of the trench (see above), as they are gratuitous interruptions to the visual pull of the rock. The integral ADA mandated handrails are quite elegant, and again invoke Turrell.

Earthworks – the good

The grading around the trench is quite precise, but seems designed for easy maneuvering of the bulldozer, not for visual or tactile effect. From the Cor-Ten rail edging, there is a gentle slope to the walls of the trench. This puts the Rock at waist height when standing next to it. First impression is that the soil of the slope towards the trench has been treated with a polymer stabilizer as it has a slight sheen and is darker (see below) then the adjacent decomposed granite surface. While suppressing dust and minimizing erosion are worthwhile goals, the desert that the decomposed granite is intended to evoke is a dusty and eroding place, so soil stabilization works against the larger intent.

That edging strip could be the crown of a railroad extrusion, if weathering steel was used for train tracks.

Metalwork – the bad and the ugly

For a project of such significance and budget, the welding is very shoddy with a very irregular bead and remnants of the spatter on almost every fillet. Standard procedure for a project where the welds are visible, is to get sample welds for approval prior to final fabrication. The lack of craftsmanship in the welds won’t be noticed by 99.9% of the visitors, but it still matters – Heizer isn’t an artist that celebrates happenstance and paint splatters. At least they could have spent a day grinding the fillets before painting.

Now talking about paint (I’m assuming it’s paint as the welds and bolts are the same color) – the staining from condensation could have been avoided with a different coating. Personally I’d have selected a weathering steel where the stains would have added to the patina, or gone with a thick hot-dip galvanized coating to match the texture of the granite.

The wavering edge of where the rock was ground down to fit the brackets is within tolerance and subtly enhances the natural shape of the rock by contrasting with the laser straight edge of the steel plate.

Anchorage – the Sergio Leone moment

Moving from beneath the Rock to outside the trench, the craft improves with the grouting and shims. Here is one of the few places where the Rock starts to levitate.

Again, those sloppy welds stand out against precision of the overall piece.

One final detail noticed, the top of the brackets are stamped by the fabricator. The steel plate seems to have been shot blasted, leaving a very pleasant tactile surface.

So does the entirety of the parts add up to a greater work of art then the sum?

Perhaps, but not as great an artwork as were the logistics behing the installation and the performance art of moving the rock. I’m disappointed in the heavy-handed engineering of the steel brackets – other design solutions could have minimize their impact and increased the gap between the rock and the walls to much greater an effect and actually let the rock levitate.

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By Barry Lehrman 2012, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.infrascapedesign.wordpress.com.

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