Levitated Mass

Having a strong interest in all forms of land and earth art, it is difficult in my daily browsing, to avoid reading about Michael Heizer‘s latest monumental sculpture destined for Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The work is a 340 ton boulder to be transported from Riverside, California, and sited in an enormous trench outside the museum.

In this photo taken June 9, 2011, Stephen Vander Hart, co-owner and vice president of Stone Valley Materials, walks past a 340-ton boulder from his quarry in Riverside, Calif. The boulder will be taken by specially designed 200-wheel truck to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to make up the “Levitated Mass” sculpture. The 680,000-pound rock is 16 feet wide and 21 feet tall.

(AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Mark Zaleski)   from the LA Curbed site 

A few days after the photo above was taken, Curbed was saying:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011, by Adrian Glick Kudler. Image via Curbed

“A lot of people have been wondering why the LACMA lawn behind the Resnick Pavilion is getting all torn up just a short time after getting all nice and green. The spot is preparing for the arrival of artist Michael Heizer’s enormous “Levitated Mass” installation–a 340 ton boulder hovering over a 15 foot deep trench (which you’ll be able to walk through!). For a showstopper like that, you can’t just pick up some boulder off the street. Heizer’s had his eye on a particular rock at a quarry near Riverside since 2006, reports the Press-Telegram. He bought it for $120,000 and storage has been $100 a month. (Heizer’s had dibs on it so long that caretaking responsibilities have now spanned two ownerships–a worker says “It’s been in the way every day.”) On August 5, the boulder will board a 200 foot trailer and travel on surface streets at about seven miles per day. Nine days later, on August 14, the rock will arrive at LACMA to what a museum rep says will be a public celebration. Everyone start getting your “Welcome to LA, 340 Ton Rock” banners out of storage“.


Now, in February 2012, news of this particular rock seems to have been swimming before my eyes for ever, as one inevitable delay after another (usually related to public safety and potential damage to highway infrastructure) has prevented its transportation. As far as I know, it still has not moved out of its quarry of origin.


“The 340 ton bouldercenterpiece for Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” installation still hasn’t started its journey from its Riverside quarry to LACMA–most recently, the transport company found that the route would have to go through Diamond Bar because the rig was too heavy for a bridge in Pomona. The smarties in Diamond Bar are now getting LACMA to cough up 10 percent of the cost of repaving one street, a $75,000 security bond, and $10k for dealing with traffic signals, plus the guarantee that the rock will only come through after midnight”.

 [San Gabriel Valley Tribune, image by Elizabeth Daniels]

Myself, I have never been a huge fan of Michael Heizer, (his most famous piece being perhaps Double Negative in the Nevada desert (made in 1969), mainly because of an inherent distaste for his practice of gouging out great chunks of our living planet, though I have to respect the scale of his vision, his conceptual rigour and his ability to get under my skin.

Heizer was the son of an eminent anthropologist specializing in Precolumbian American cultures who took him on excavations when he was a boy. He belongs to a generation that was determined to break with any notion of art as a containable experience, and I have a vague recollection of him saying that there were quite enough objects in the world, without him adding more. More recently he has asserted that as long as you are making sculpture, you might as well make it big.

During the ’60s he was one of the pioneers of Earthworks, the movement involving large-scale wilderness projects. Since 1970 he has been engaged on building City, in Nevada, considered to be probably the largest contemporary sculpture ever attempted (it is about one mile long).

Here’s the Google satellite image of this massive enterprise.

Heizer sees City as a work that will survive our doomed civilization, a self-contained, precision-built entity that will last in its wilderness for millennia. I have absolutely no quarrel with his fascination with prehistory – but I think there is a slight difference in our cultures between now and then – a difference in motivation, intention and social structure. Could Heizer’s City be the biggest ego trip of all time? Could this sort of excessive machismo be a contributory factor to the very doom he is forecasting? Could it be a warning sign? Is this work representative of our 21st century civilisation (as he claims) just as we see the Pyramids or Stonehenge as representative of theirs?

Coming back to Levitated Mass, the project in question… in the expansive 60’s this sort of work would have been culturally and art-historically relevant – but now, over 40 years later, I am not sure whether heaving enormous pieces of rock around the country is quite so appropriate. However, it is true that large monoliths were transported in Stone Age times, albeit probably for different reasons – and the concerted effort of so many organisations and individuals to get this current project under way must surely have its resonances.

Another thought – our culture is somewhat out of balance. It is one that is overwhelmed with information, mediated and edited by others through IT. Whilst being extremely useful, it denies us our full physical ‘felt’ sense of being alive, and our connection with the earth: the bedrock of our being. The slow, painstaking journey of the Rock to the Museum (when it happens) will, for some, be a powerful reminder of who we really are.

And the Los Angeles County Museum of Art? I would like to think that they regard this as a homage to our Stone Age ancestors and the very beginnings of what we call art. But I am sorry for all the beautiful lawns, plants and trees that have been ripped up though, to prepare the 456ft. concrete trench awaiting The Rock.

One of the functions of good art, I think, is that it should disturb, not necessarily be liked… giving us the opportunity to reconsider our perceptions and beliefs a little, in the light of life’s changes. All I can say is that Heizer’s Levitated Mass is certainly raising plenty of interest and plenty of questions of profound importance – so that has to be good.

Anybody got any thoughts on all this? I would love to hear from you.


http://doublenegative.tarasen.net/ (a website about Michael Heizer)

http://doublenegative.tarasen.net/city.html  (city)

27th Feb 2012
To gain a sense of the enormous worldwide interest in this project, and some of the issues that it raises – browse through Observatoire du Land Art: a place for archiving, researching and transmitting land art.

About throughstones

I am primarily an environmental artist, living on the North Devon coast, a still beautiful, semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in the eternal movement and cycles of life, and in full engagement with place - particularly as it relates to what we call 'nature' or 'the natural environment'. It is a way of making myself at home in the world.
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9 Responses to Levitated Mass

  1. Hi Linda,
    Here is our last article focusing on 340t / 340g…
    All our best


  2. Our transatlantic action launched yesterday!
    Follow it here: http://www.landart.fr
    Very best


  3. Hi Linda,
    Another point of view about the 180-ton boulder evoking about art and transcendence: http://obsart.blogspot.com/2012/02/tsunami-memorial-levitated-mass-072011.html
    And of course the great news!
    All the best


    • Thank you very much – what a fascinating body of research! I have looked quickly at your recent posts, including this one – and am looking forward to reading more closely about the the ‘boulder effect’ .
      I will settle down to read today, after lunch…


  4. Hello Linda,

    It is the same for us, we greatly respect the work of Michael Heizer for many reasons, and not only for artistic reasons.

    Thanks for your nice comment. This is a significant work, not always easy because information is scarce on this project, here in Europe. Everything have to be found by researching in USA…. from France !

    Let’s keep in touch of course.
    Your article is now referenced on our press review, here:



  5. “I would love to hear from you.?”

    Ok : http://obsart.blogspot.com/2012/02/un-bloc-de-180-tonnes-transforme-en.html

    Thanks for your article.
    All the best


    • Thank You very much OBSART. Like I said – I don’t feel comfortable with it, but I greatly respect the work of Michael Heizer for many reasons. One of these is the way it gets under my skin so powerfully, and shakes up my fondly-held beliefs about the world and our role within it. In fact I am glad of the challenge and the opportunity to learn and expand my views.
      Your website (which I have only recently discovered) is most interesting! I will think some more, and be in touch!


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