In recent years, Los Angeles has developed quite a reputation for moving gigantic, massive objects… at a snail’s pace… along city streets… where nothing so large was ever supposed to be traveling in the first place.
On 20 September 2012, one of the retired fleet of space shuttles – Endeavour – hitched a ride to Los Angeles on a NASA 747 for its final mission: to become the star attraction at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.
In early October, Endeavour completed the final leg of its final journey: a 12-mile crawl through the streets of LA. The 85-ton orbiter left its hangar at LAX late one Thursday night and arrived at its new home in Expo Park, just south of downtown, on Sunday afternoon. More than 60 hours later. Something to consider next time you’re stuck in traffic on the 405. But, what an uncharacteristically slow victory lap for this engineering marvel which would rocket into orbit at 18,000 mph – nine times faster than a bullet! These photos and the following video are by the Los Angeles Times.
Here’s an incredible time-lapse video of that epic slow-motion journey across LA:
(Trying) not to be outdone by the Science Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) jumped on the ‘Big’ bandwagon the following year. On 28 February 2013, this 340-ton granite boulder left its quarry in Jurupa Valley, California aboard a custom-built transporter for the 110-mile journey to its new home at LACMA’s campus on the Miracle Mile in LA. It arrived 11 days later to much fanfare, at an estimated cost of ten million American dollars.
And even the most ardent fan of Big Heavy Things would have to ask, Why?
I don’t mean to insult the artist. Michael Heizer’s creative impulses are as legitimate as yours or mine. His 1969 sketch for the concept of this giant-boulder-installation is itself part of a collection in a Berlin museum. I would just argue that perhaps not every sketched idea is necessarily worthy of being executed. In this case, I would say that the idea of Levitated Mass (as it is called) is simply more intriguing than its execution. (Figure out a way to really levitate that baby, and I’m all in!)
So yesterday, making one last stop on her way out of town, Lisë and I found a convenient parking space at a meter on 6th Street, just outside the LACMA back gate. And we wandered in to have a look at The Great Big, Very Large, Quite Massive Rock Thing. As you approach, it looks like a large boulder just sitting in the middle of a couple of acres of dirt. Well, decomposed granite. (You wouldn’t be too far off with “dirt”.) Then as you walk in line with the east-west axis of this installation, you see that the giant boulder rests astride a 456-foot-long concrete slot that descends gently to a depth of 15 feet below the boulder, and then angles back up. The slot is stark, unadorned concrete. The
most only interesting design aspect is the integral negative-space handrail. Otherwise, it resembles nothing so much as the charmless cement bunker of the LA River. All so you can walk… beneath… the giant… rock. And you can see it and take pictures of it from different angles on your approach, and then you can walk out the other end, and the light hits it from different angles depending on the time of day and where you are: in the slot, under the rock, beside it… I suppose another way of looking at it would be to hire a helicopter and fly over it… you get the idea.
Or not. It must be obvious by now that I don’t get the idea, at all. Here’s what LACMA would like us to take away from our encounter with Levitated Mass (from the museum’s website):
Taken whole, Levitated Mass speaks to the expanse of art history, from ancient traditions of creating artworks from megalithic stone, to modern forms of abstract geometries and cutting-edge feats of engineering.
No. No no. No no no no oh no no no. NO! I’m sorry. No. I can’t… I just… Are you…? But… No. WTF?!! You spent TEN MILLION DOLLARS to build a truck that could carry a 700,000 lb ROCK – it’s a rock! – more than 100 miles to the middle of LA, and then you dig a ditch so that people can walk under it. Which I have now done. And let me say: it was the most fabulous stroll I’ve ever taken under a great big rock. Really. Bravo. But I must also tell you, LACMA: I found that whole “expanse of art history” part just, well, completely missing from the experience. And I’m an imaginative guy, but… as Charlie Brown would say, “I got a rock.“
May I make a suggestion? You’ve got more than 900 linear feet of blank concrete walls on the inside of that slot. Maybe you could reinterpret those walls as gallery space, and install a curated collection of art at intervals every ten feet. That would give you room to display 90 works of art representing the sweeping ‘expanse of art history’. Just a thought. Even if you chiseled the names of artists into the walls, beginning with Neanderthal cave painters and running to our modern day street artists, or the people who arrange individual atoms to make smiley faces, or extremely skeptical bloggers (I know several)… then you might introduce some expansiveness, some art, some history to this big-rock-on-long-ditch. Oh, and I might as well tell you that calling 2 acres of
dirt decomposed granite a “lawn” is like calling a great big rock “art”.
Oh… maybe I’m starting to get it?
P.S. From the Dept of Inconvenient Truths
In an LA.Curbed.com article, someone floated the idea that this 340-ton boulder is “the largest or second largest thing ever moved by man.” Which sounds mighty impressive. Until you realize it is really quite wrong. Ironically, we need look no further than the Science Center for an example of a much, much larger and heavier thing that man has moved. At launch, Shuttle Endeavour and its main fuel tank and its twin solid fuel booster rockets weighed in at 2,200 tons – or about 7 of LACMA’s big boulder. And not only did Endeavour and its sister ships move, they hauled astronomical ass! 8 seconds after ignition, those 4.4 million pounds were moving 100 mph… after 1 minute, the shuttle hit 1,000 mph… after 2 minutes, 3,000 mph… after 8 minutes it reached escape velocity of 18,000 mph – or 5 miles per second. That’s the quarry in Jurupa to Wilshire Blvd in 22 seconds. Just sayin’. (Boulder images are by LACMA; last one is mine.)