Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Levitated Mass - Michael Heizer's new work at LACMA

From a concept originally formulated in 1969, in 2012 Angelenos have recently been celebrating the unveiling of an epic sculpture - Michael Heizer's "Levitated Mass" has finally been realised as a 340-ton boulder suspended above a 456-foot-long concrete channel. Quarried in Riverside and transported to the grounds of LACMA, the boulder was worked on for a further 4 weeks to engineer the giant into its new position - above a walkway, where it hangs in seemingly effortless suspension, defying gravity.

There's a strong invitation to engage with the piece, as the long and gentle walkway directs you to a place beneath the monolith. Looking up above you at all of that mass perched on two little steel shelves at the deepest point of the walk is probably going to be the "Kodak moment" for some. But if you descend slowly from ground level, looking towards the boulder, there is a spot half way down the slope where the relationship between mass and void is most powerful, and there is a visual illusion that the boulder sits precariously on the edges of the concrete channel. The eye is tricked and I can say I definitely had a moment of the "heeby-jeebies" and theories of visual perception were challenged.

The stone itself has many faces as you walk around it, and in different light it changes colour. No doubt it will bare the effects of weathering in the LA climate and the impact of human interaction. Visitors are already seen to be keen on touching the boulder - I know, I couldn't resist the physical connection and it seems Heizer too understands how people are drawn to it in an almost "religious" way.

So, is this merely the beginning of a love/hate affair with a new piece of modern art? "Levitated Mass" already has its critics. Or something even deeper, a contemporary statement about spatial relations and the human connection (or disconnection) to the planet's geology? Is this art, scientific specimen, or a giant spiritual monument? Heizer gives very little away for those who want to know "what does it mean?" The piece is free to hunker-down in the grounds of LACMA for centuries, if not millennia, to come, and no doubt will outlive most of us...we are also free to derive whatever meaning we want from it.