By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Over the 10 days it took for artist Michael Heizer's 340-ton rock to travel from a Riverside quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, moving an average 5 miles per hour in a specially built, 260-foot-long transporter, over in France, artist Régis Perray moved 340 grams of dust through Nantes. He loaded it into a tiny toy dump truck and pulled it with his fingers. The dust came from Chartres Cathedral, a place "younger than Heizer's rock, but older than the history of the United States," partly built when, in the year 1145, citizens harnessed themselves to carts and pulled building materials to the site in an act of extreme piety.
Perray didn't mean to critique the enormity of Heizer's rock. Instead, 340 grams displaced ... was an echo and homage on "a French scale." The transport of Heizer's rock has been compared again and again to the moving of historic monoliths — the 1,250-ton Thunder Stone dragged by manpower into St. Petersburg in 1770, or the 800-ton stones moved during the Roman Empire. But to Paris-based Observatoire du Land Art, which commissioned Perray's 340 grams displaced ..., Heizer's project was a product of America's intoxication with the wide-open Western frontier.
Commissioned back in July, when LACMA still thought the rock would move in August, Perray delayed his plans whenever the need for a new permit or change in the route delayed Heizer's project. Perray is most interested in progress, process and effort — in 1999, he traveled to Egypt to sweep clean the pyramids. So his piece finished on March 10, when the 10-day journey ended.
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
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Region: Mid-Wilshire/ Hancock Park
Heizer's sculpture, called Levitated Mass because the granite will sit on top of a 456-foot concrete trench and appear to levitate when you walk through the trench underneath it, won't be done until this spring or summer. But from the hundreds who came out to the quarry the night the rock left, the thousands who followed its trek as it gained notoriety "like the Grateful Dead," as one woman put it, and the sense of culmination felt the night the rock rolled down Wilshire to LACMA, you'd think the journey was the art, not unlike Perray's project. Will we ever see Levitated Mass as just a sculpture?
Absurdly extensive processes have been a part of land art since the 1960s, when artists like Heizer, Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria first started working in "out there" places. Because they wanted the enormous landscape to be their material and museum, they would fly around in helicopters scouting locations, then blast out sandstone or erect rods in fields. But they usually did this in remote locations, so people encountered these feats in the form of reports and rumors. Until now, no land artist had sent a transporter, built by a company that moves missiles and multistory buildings, crawling through urban and suburban streets, creating fanfare that included a "Rockapalooza" party in Bixby Knolls, where children made pet rocks and people consumed Rockstar Energy Drinks.
Heizer was absent during the rock's journey and hasn't talked about it, but odds are he's far more concerned with the final product. He first sketched his rock, hovering above a long slot, in 1968. He imagined it would be around 1,000 tons and would look as if it sat flush on the ground as you approached the slot, then appear to rise as you descended. This remained an idea until 2005, when his friend, quarry owner Danny Johnston, blasted a solid granite boulder out of a mountainside. Johnston called Heizer. "I've been looking for this for 30 years," the artist said when he saw it.
Heizer once was willing to let nature take its toll on his work but now he's fixated on permanence. When art historian Erin Hogan made a pilgrimage to see works by Heizer and others, she didn't even try to see City, the massive, secret complex Heizer has been building since 1972 — "He's been known to chase people off his property with a shotgun," she said — but she saw Double Negative, the two slots he blasted into the Nevada desert in 1969. Originally crisp rectangles in earth, the two deep indentations have begun to deteriorate, which frustrates Heizer. In letters written to patrons in the 1970s, he described sculptures able to withstand even nuclear attack, and he he has considered reinforcing the sides to restore their shape. "How someone could create a work out of completely organic material and expect it not to change over the course of 40 years is somewhat beyond me," Hogan mused in a 2009 lecture.
Talk of permanence is at odds with the changeable character of most land art, so refusal to accept change makes Heizer weirdly compelling. "I'd like to believe he's a megalomaniac," says artist Leia Jervert, who became enamored of Heizer when she was 19. "But I think he's just an introvert."
Plus, these days, permanence is out, while ephemeral is in. Artists talk about their process being part of their work, and they're interested in making art out of fleeting social interactions. Few would move an artwork through multiple cities and not see its related encounters as integral to the piece.
Coincidentally, while the rock traveled through SoCal, Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya — who's 30 years younger than Heizer — was having his smaller but still imposing 30-foot replica of Michelangelo's legendary nude David shipped by semi from New York to Kentucky. Ozkaya made his David because he likes the idea of exerting extreme effort and creating fanfare around something that's not even original. So when the semi got in the wrong lane crossing New York City's Washington Bridge, stopped traffic and angered a cop ("I think he was provoked by the nakedness he saw," said Steve Wilson, who founded 21c Museum, where David was headed), it all played into Ozkaya's project in provocation.