It’s just a rock, right?
That was the question on many Angelenos’ lips this week as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – in conjunction with several sponsors and private donors – transported a large portion of its latest art piece, Levitated Mass, through the county of Los Angeles.
Levitated Mass is the brainchild of artist Michael Heizer, and the piece is slated for installation at LACMA’s Resnick North Lawn in June 2012. After 40 years, Heizer finally found the right rock for his masterpiece (now that, RMT’ers, is patience!), but then it took almost another three years for it to clear dozens (hundreds?) of city permits and other permissions before it could make its way to its final resting place. The 340-ton granite boulder began its 100+-mile surface-street journey on a 100-plus wheel truck-trailer Tuesday February 28, and the rock stops rolling upon its arrival at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard Saturday March 10. You can follow where the rock’s been and where it’s going here.
I went out Tuesday to Lakewood, CA, to see the rock parked on South Street near Palos Verde. T was in school so this was my chance to preview the scene and see if it was anything I wanted to make time for on Wednesday when the rock tumbled down into Long Beach. My official conclusion: This rock’s a star.
So Wednesday T and I went back together to see the rock. He loved it, despite it being under wraps. I am not sure which he liked more, the rock or the truck. He did at one point exclaim, “WOW now that’s a BIG rock!” but he also said the same thing about the truck, too. He also loved all the characters that came out to celebrate with the community, many of whom stopped to pose with willing visitors.
C even managed a drive-by on his way into work Wednesday, though the rock wasn’t really directly on his way to work. But given C’s an engineer, I wasn’t surprised to hear about his little detour; he’s interested in this not just as an art piece but also as an engineering feat. He’d also heard about the rock from a co-worker who saw the rock on-site at its home quarry well before all this recent hoopla.
I’ve heard the many rants and rumblings about Levitated Mass since this story broke: It’s slowing down traffic; it’s burning a ridiculous amount of fuel; it’s wrapped in gobs and gobs of plastic; it must cost a TON (pun intended) to transport, and that money could otherwise be spent to heal the world’s ills; it’s causing crowds to come into my otherwise quiet neighborhood; IT’S JUST A ROCK.
Well, admittedly, I can’t debase the fuel argument. Fuel costs a LOT of money right now (boo), but given the restrictions on them traveling only 5-8 MPH tops, I have to imagine that the Levitated Mass transport team (sponsored by Hanjin Shipping Co., Ltd.) has at least attempted to devise some sort of fuel-savings strategy. I mean, heck, it did take almost three years to get this thing moving, which seems like enough time to analyze the best possible practices and plans for transport, including gas mileage. That and how could this truck stop to refuel anywhere along the way really – just look at the size of thing!
Let’s see, what else… oh yeah, the plastic wrap. OK, let’s say you were driving or walking near the rock and chunks accidentally sheared off of the boulder. I am extremely grateful they decided to wrap up that thing for our safety, aren’t you? And perhaps another group of generous donors can commission another local artist to do something with that plastic once installation of Levitated Mass concludes.
OK, now for the money… let me make this extremely clear: It’s not “our” money. Meaning, this is 100 percent backed through private donations and other fundraising efforts by LACMA (see this FAQ for more details on the who’s who of funding and answers to many more rock quarries, er, queries). Policing of the rock along the route appeared to be mostly rent-a-cop on the two stops I visited (apart from crowd control at the Bixby Knolls neighborhood events, but even this was a quiet and small LBPD presence on bicycles with no problems reported). As for the overnight driving plans, I have no idea who’s escorting the truck-trailer on its drive as I am not up between the hours of 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. – the time when the rock is rolling down the road – so I cannot speak to those facts. But if local police outfits are escorting it, again, I feel that much safer that cars cannot come anywhere close to crossing paths with this behemoth thanks to an official police presence. So don’t worry, folks, no one is skimming the city or county coffers of “our money” for “just a rock.” As for arguments about how this sum of money could be better spent, well, I suppose if it were your own money then you could make that decision. After all, I know I sure wouldn’t want someone grabbing my wallet to tell me how I can best spend my money – right?
And the crowds… Well, I wouldn’t blame all of that on the rock alone. For instance, the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association of Long Beach decided to make lemons out of lemonade and go full-on rock festival on Wednesday. Local businesses and neighbors near and far celebrated the rock’s arrival with a small street fair called ROCK-a-Palooza in the afternoon that went well into the evening. The celebration included everything from bands playing songs with “rock” in the title along to hands-on arts and crafts for the kids. Many businesses along Atlantic Avenue gave out additional daily deals to honor the rock, too. Other local entrepreneurs even got in on the action, such as Red Eye Media who set up a small booth and printed T-shirts on-site to commemorate this special day in Long Beach’s history. The semi-impromptu street festival got the community out and together talking, dancing, smiling, and excited, and that’s saying something given it was “just a rock” that did all that. It also gave small businesses a chance to generate an unexpected pile of cash on a day they might have otherwise broke even or perhaps even lost money. Now that rocks!
So what’s my answer when asked if it’s just a rock? It’s a resounding NO; for me at this time of my life, this is most definitely art. Ask me the same question 10 years ago and I’m not sure I’d have the same answer or passion about this, but that’s a big part of what art’s all about – interpretation based on perspective and life experience, with a heavy dose of just plain-old opinion. If it was just a rock, it would not be stirring up so much discussion, controversy, and laughter everywhere it goes, and isn’t that what a fantastic piece of art does, too?
With that, I’d encourage you that if you are near an area where this rock is resting and/or moving through, park your car, walk over, and view it from the gallery. Don’t just drive by in your car – trust me, not even a rock can make traffic a rocking good time! On your visit, take pause and witness the amazing positive community spirit and smiling children’s’ faces over “just a rock.” Seeing kids excited about anything related to the arts just frankly, well, rocks my world. I also heard more laughter this week among crowds of strangers than I have in a long time. Seems this silly little rock has inspired folks across all socio-economic groups to get interested in the arts again, and it’s giving folks permission to take a break from the rough stuff and have a good laugh. Whether they were laughing at or with the rock I’ll never really know, but everyone I saw seemed to be having a great time.