Wednesday, February 18, 2015
It probably says something bad about Los Angeles, or me, or both, that when my wife asked if there were anything in particular I wanted to do in LA during our few days in the city, after visiting our son at college, the only thing I could think of was: "See the big rock at the Los Angeles art museum."
Officially titled "Levitated Mass" —though I hope that Los Angelenos have the gumption to call it the "Big Rock," the way Chicagoans refer to our massive public sculpture, "Cloud Gate" as "The Bean." It's our God-given right to defy artistic pretense.
I had seen a video of the 340-ton granite boulder's slow, well-planned 100-mile journey to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a rare unifying civic event in Los Angeles that doesn't involve earthquakes or riots, and something about the boulder's careful procession, greeted with exultation, tears and indifference, made me want to see the thing for myself.
The mammoth stone is located above a concrete ditch and you walk under it, and my first thought was, "It's not so big." Perhaps the best way to encounter the work is unexpectedly, to see it on the horizon and wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. Which is hard to do when you go expecting it to be there.
The Big Rock certainly isn't the communal experience that The Bean is; in Chicago, people crowd around, touching it, viewing their own reflection. This being LA, visitors approach at regular intervals, in small groups, encounter the thing, and leave. If somebody is having their picture taken by it, others hang back, at a polite distance, so as not to ruin their shot.
Still, I was glad I went, glad that visitors are afforded the chance to pat Michael Heizer's $10 million sculpture (the rock itself was sold to the museum for $70,000, the rest was the cost of constructing a football field-sized transport rig, plus gas—15 gallons to the mile to run the carrier— plus the cost of crews snagging power lines, moving street lights, and generally clearing the way for the two-story tall, three-lane wide chunk of stone when it arrived in 2012. Something makes you want to touch it, to register its solidity. (A shame the installation doesn't include a guard to shoo you away when you do touch it; that would be the perfect punchline. With art, grandiosity feasts while humor goes hungry). And of course I had my picture taken next to it. You sort of have to.
My wife, as always, not only read my thoughts but put them into comprehensible, concise form:
"It's no Bean," she said. "I imagine the act of getting it here is better than the act of it being here."
Exactly. Or, put another way: the journey is the art. Without a story, it's just a big rock in an odd place.