Friday, January 30, 2015

"Rock of Ages' (on Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass) by Douglas Messerli

rock of ages

by Douglas Messerli

Michael Heizer Leivitated Mass, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012

Description: other day, with out-of-town friends, we visited Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass,” a work of art that is famous in Los Angeles for its long, complicated journey—given local road constrictions throughout the region and the impossibly large machine it took to carry the rock to its location—from quarry to museum. Along the way, in its many daytime pauses (the machine could only travel on late night empty streets), numerous communities came out to greet the oversized manifestation of expensive “art,” celebrating its journey through their streets, and further promoting this over-the-top art manifestation. Although the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and its dynamic director, Michael Govin, insisted that no public money had gone into the support of this multi-expensive project, some people could only wonder, was it worth the hype! Govin insisted it was, declaring the work a piece that would last centuries and would represent the museum into a kind of artistic eternity, alike, perhaps, the very popular Chris Burden piece, “Urban Light” which greets the visitor to the LACMA site which, in location, is now backed, in the opposite museum entry, by the "Heizer" rock. 
     So much publicity aroused public interest, that the museum gracefully invited people from all those neighborhoods through which the “rock” had traveled free visitation to the opening, which Howard—a former curator at the museum—attended; I had another event on that day). The crowd was so intense, that Howard did not even walk “under” the monumental natural force—which is what the whole experience of this earth-works-based piece is all about. 
     I’m delighted, actually, since the installation exists across the street from our condominium, that the “rock” is so appealing to audiences. One hopes for the museum’s success. It defines our neighborhood. But there are some doubts. My intelligent typesetter, Pablo, visited it with great consternation: "I didn’t want to walk under it and it seemed just like a cold concrete tunnel.” Others had had similar responses.
    Indeed, the tunnel under which one needs pass to experience the “intense” feeling of walking under such an expression of the size and power of natural forces, is rather cold, certainly not endearing to the exploration of nature: a long concrete tunnel, even if well-designed, that puts one in an intense opposition to nature itself. The rock stolidly sits on two struts imposed upon the concrete bunker, but one feels in the process of the long trek through the “tunnel,” that at any moment the natural, the “rock,” might crumble into its historical inevitability. On the day we entered, I muttered, “God forbid that a major earthquake were to occur as we walked below,” while the next day temblors shook throughout the nearby Orange Country.   

Description:     Yet, it wasn’t the fear that made this impossibly large project so memorable: I was much more awed by the two (now one) Richard Serra (Band, 2006) sculptures embedded in the basement of the Eli Broad Gallery nearby. This large “rock,” which can never be properly perceived as immense as it truly is, seemed like a place to simply “duck and dodge,” a massive natural image that didn’t quite belong to the space upon which it was impaled. It may be, as director Michael Govin has stated, it is an art piece that shall survive for a very long time, but one can only wonder at the poised rock: will the major earthquake we certainly will suffer in the next several years crack that natural symbol in half? And, if that rock were to survive, we can only ask what it might tell us about its own natural existence, now so carefully positioned into a museum installation. Is nature truly an expression of the large natural manifestation such a constructed situation? What does it mean to be poised there? And, most importantly, we must ask, why has a significant force of nature been brought to be installed there for millions of dollars? The question is not whether or not it is art, but whether it is an expression to capture our pagan need to worship natural images? Can one absurdly transferred rock compare to the millenniums of constructed stone pyramids? The comparison is, of course, ridiculous. As wonderful as Heizer’s rock may be, it is clearly not a rock of ages.

Los Angeles, August 8, 2012

Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (August 2012).

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