Danielle Sommer lives in Los Angeles. Her writing has been featured in Art in America, Textile, Art Practical, and Landfill Quarterly. For three years she blogged for KQED on visual art, and she currently edits the column #Hashtags: Viral Thoughts on Art for the arts website DailyServing. Recent curatorial projects include “The Collectors” at Monte Vista Projects and “If we don’t, remember me” at Little Paper Planes. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Part IV of a series of four posts, written as blogger-in-residence at Art21.org, May 2013.
The truth is this: I am flooded by the past, overrun. Unlike Aby Warburg (whom I wrote about in my last post), I may or may not be convinced that objects from ancient Greece contain a charge of actual energy from that time period, but I have talismans that stay with me—rocks from the Utah desert, a bird’s nest or two, scraps of poems from high school.
I do not believe I am an exception to the rule, but rather, the norm. It might be that society puts such value on mythic forward-thinkers like Prometheus because we find ourselves drowning, daily, in a sea of objects, traces, imprints, and impressions of what came before. I run my eyes over an old friend’s face and see nothing but our current moment; I blink, look again, and pull forth three separate memories involving he and I and a warm, Portland kitchen in a house we used to share.
Perhaps what Plato wrote is correct, and figures who live in this collapsed present (like Epimetheus) bring only mischief, but I prefer to allow for it—for the flood, the disintegration of firm boundaries, the conflation of present and past. I come back again to the idea of hindsight as a place, a viewing point atop a rifle. An art museum can be this kind of place, a controlled vantage point from which to view versions of the past. But art is best when it gives away this control; when it keeps the floodgates open.
Six years ago this summer, I had the opportunity to visit Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. My approach via the long dirt road was almost exactly the same as what Smithson depicts in his film: the loud noise of a metal carriage on a washboard road, the horizon line of the Wasatch Range, the dust pouring out from behind me. The actual size of the Jetty was smaller than I’d anticipated, but the shock value of the colors more than made up for this: the sky was blue, the lake was pink, the Jetty was…bright, bright white, encrusted by salt after being submerged for thirty-plus years.
I walked into the center of the Jetty feeling calmed by the vibrant colors and the quiet of the desert. Smithson wrote that “to be in the scale of the Jetty is to be out of it,” meaning that if you are walking on the Jetty, you fail to be able to see it. This is not actually the case; it’s a fairly small sculpture, and you can see each of the concentric rings from the center. But read another way, Smithson could easily be talking about time, and to stand in the center of the Jetty, on the edge of the Great Salt Lake, is to experience its weight. I can still feel the water lapping at my toes.
Part III of a series of four posts, written as blogger-in-residence at Art21.org, May 2013.
If it’s true that hindsight is more than an action we take from the present, but a conflation of present and past, a moment when time’s fabric bunches and we reach out and touch the object of our sights (pulling it forward), then, following in the vein of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, does this object touch us back?
The pathos of the belief in this possibility can be found in the practice of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929), particularly with his library and his final project, Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne. As an eldest son, Warburg should have taken over the family banking business from his father, but on his thirteenth birthday, he allegedly offered this position to his youngest brother, Max, in exchange for the promise that Max would buy him all the books he ever wanted. Max kept his word.
By 1914, Warburg had amassed somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 volumes, most of which were related to history, art, psychology, and religion. These volumes became the Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg—a research institute located in Hamburg that attracted scholars from all over Europe and America—and, eventually, the Warburg Institute, one of the more important art-historical think tanks of the century.
Warburg’s original cataloguing system, however, left many of the visitors to his library overwhelmed. He ordered everything according to what he called “the law of the good neighbor,” physically arranging (and rearranging) the books to critique, refute, or support each other. As a later scholar wrote, “A line of speculation opening in one volume was attested to or attacked, continued or contradicted, refined or refuted in its neighbor.”
It was an extremely physical process; one that he repeated with the Mnemosyne picture atlas, which he worked on for the five-year period up until his death, juxtaposing images from different time periods against each other, hoping to understand why a particular style of representation or type of image would surface and resurface at different points in history, or in different cultures.
Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne (named for the Greek goddess of memory) has enjoyed a second life over the last decade due to a renewed interest in archival projects, but what is fascinating about Der Bilderatlas is that, just like the library, it was frequently in motion. Warburg would order and reorder the images, as though to truly understand the links between past and present, he needed the physical experience, not just the intellectual.
Warburg manifested animist tendencies, and believed that the objects in his collections were charged with energy from a particular period. The photos included in Der Bilderatlas floated on large, black, rectangular panels that Warburg considered conductive. In the words of art historian Kurt Forster, for Warburg “to tap these batteries [artifacts] was to obtain a living current of life from the past.” He both touched and was touched.
Ultimately, Warburg’s system was too confusing for others. The library only really began to thrive after his family hired Fritz Saxl as an assistant, who created a workable catalog and began to manage its daily affairs. Warburg himself is rumored to have been schizophrenic, which would explain some of his behavior patterns, but for the sake of argument, it’s just as tempting to read the figure of Saxl as Prometheus and Warburg as a modern-day Epimetheus, “acting on the wisdom of a conflated instant.” In this version of the narrative, unfortunately, it is Epimetheus who is sacrificed, as though by opening himself up to the experience of being touched by the past, he is overrun.
Part II of a series of four posts, written as blogger-in-residence at Art21.org, May 2013.
In the fall of 2011, the Los Angeles gallery Cherry and Martin offered its visitors the chance to relive a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980, gallerists Philip Martin and Mary Leigh Cherry presented selected works from curator Peter Bunnell’s 1970 exhibition, Photography into Sculpture, including some of the first examples of artists working with photographs in a “fully dimensional” manner.
The original exhibition, whichdebuted at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with a roster of primarily West Coast- and L.A.-based artists, shocked and appalled its audience, winning scorn from many critics. Hilton Kramer, for instance, insisted that the integrity of the photographic process had been compromised. Forty years later, however, most of the show’s reviewers comment instead on the exhibition’s continued relevance and surprising freshness. Carl Cheng’s dioramas of molded plastic photographic figures and Michael de Courcy’s tower of photo boxes seemed as intriguing in 2011 as they did in 1970. What critics seem to disagree on was what word to use to describe the show. Was it a “re-staging,” a “revision,” or simply a “reprise?”
In an interview, gallerist Philip Martin made it clear that the goal was never to simply reach back into the past and recreate the minutiae of the original exhibition. “You want the work to live and to be present as current objects,” Martin stated. “It doesn’t feel like historical material to me.” At the same time, the effect of Cherry and Martin’s decisions to pull the exhibition forward—to apply the lens of hindsight—can’t be ignored. “Art history is a narrative. It’s a story that we’re clearly always retelling ourselves. As a gallerist, as a curator, you’re trying to create a narrative that sparks people’s interest so they can see things afresh.”
When asked if the recent version of Photography into Sculpture revised history, Martin replied, “I’m not really sure what that means. I would assume that means you’re saying to people that history is not what they thought it was. I suppose to some degree that’s true, but at the same time, I think that to reach back and say ‘Hey, we couldn’t read this object, or we were reading it in a different way…’ That’s a statement of the present.”
There’s a famous photograph from 1913 called The Smoker. The smoker sits in profile, his face double-exposed with his hairline lost against the black background. His left hand is raised toward the camera, grasping an indistinguishable object. His right hand—actually, both hands—seem to be in multiple places at once, leaving blurry motion trails across the photograph, an effect the photographer, Italian Futurist Anton Bragaglia (1890–1960), carefully cultivated by leaving the shutter open for long periods. The same technique transforms the sitter’s cigarette and cigarette smoke into solid, white cords that snake from lap to mouth.
The image is an example of what Bragaglia called photodynamism, a process developed by Anton and his brother, Arturo, in reaction to the chronophotography of Etienne-Jules Marey. Chronophotography, according to Bragaglia, only interested itself in “the precise reconstruction of movement,” while photodynamism’s concern was with “the area of movement which produces sensation, the memory of which still palpitates in our awareness.”
It occurs to me again that there are competing versions of hindsight. One presumes distance from what came before, along with a more precise, Marey-esque catalogue of movement (of causes and effects). The second—the sight on a gun as it links my eye and my target—involves the messiness of Benjamin’s flash and the conflated instant, of multiple layers of time pierced by the same arrow. In this version, the second we loose our arrow, we enter Bragaglia’s landscape, where the legibility of individual objects and trajectories is compromised and nothing is as important as the connective tissue that vibrates between and around things.
There is no prescription for the results of such an encounter, but perhaps this is a way we can have our cake and eat it too—to steal fire and bring our past along. After all, the clumsiest narratives are often the narratives that assume prescribed movement from A to B. Perhaps what makes shows like Cherry and Martin’s stand above the rest is that they don’t.
Part I of a series of four posts, written as blogger-in-residence at Art21.org, May 2013.
I am out to lunch with a good friend, talking about a new idea for a show. It’s a hot day (too hot), but I’m excited because I have the start of an idea: nothing mapped out, to be sure, but something. I want to restage an event that I read about recently, a 1958 event originally organized by the poet, ceramicist and former Black Mountain College professor M.C. Richards called Clay Things to Touch, to Plant in, to Hang up, to Cook in, to Look at, to Put Ashes in, to Wear and for Celebration.
I’m unable to articulate the specifics of how I would approach this new version of Clay Things, however, and the conversation hiccups and shifts course towards the trend in reinstalling older exhibitions, such as with 2011’s Photography into Sculpture at Cherry and Martin gallery here in Los Angeles. As enjoyable as that show was, why is it, my friend wonders, that art seems stuck in the past, without the same risk-taking that we see in the technology sector? I parry with a not particularly effective round of “what is art for,” but it’s a vapid effort, and with the heat and the rapidly nearing end of our lunch hour, the fight is lost before the real argument can even be defined.
Are we educated to favor innovation and foresight? Prometheus was the hero, not his brother, Epimetheus. “He who thinks before” brought us fire, capital, and the arts; Plato blamed the “scatter-brained” Epimetheus, or “he who thinks after,” for leaving humankind “naked and shoeless” and wrought with mischief. And whether he opened the box himself or not, it was Epimetheus who helped Pandora loose her plagues upon the world: “But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood.” Yet the actions we take—the museums we build, the narratives we write, the longings we keep secret—belie the idea that Prometheus is our only role model.
It’s true that seeing ahead (or behind) is not a one-to-one replacement for that next step—thinking about what is seen—even if the actions often travel together. But there is something in a name, and Epimetheus’s gives a further clue: the Greek prefix “epi-” doesn’t mean “after,” but rather “upon, at, close upon, or on the occasion of.” Epimetheus does not so much represent the act of looking or thinking backwards, but rather that of acting on the wisdom of a conflated instant, when both present and past merge. “Hindsight” used to refer solely to that part of a rifle that was lined up with the foresight, which was then lined up with your target, a mechanical aid to help you extend your physical presence, to reach out and touch another and bring it to you, even in death.
Hindsight, then, is like an arrow, shot from our own time into another, but once something is speared, it has to exist in both times at once, pulled forward and reactivated. Walter Benjamin wrote, “It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, an image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.” Benjamin feared for those who suffered the illusion of historical progress, but have we moved too far in the opposite direction? Have we forgotten how to steal fire?
The march of time has not been kind to M.C. Richards. A friend and collaborator to artists like David Tudor and John Cage, she was a transgressive thinker in her own right, but she’s been mostly erased from the landscape of postwar American art. Clay Things, Jenni Sorkin now argues,is the second documented happening in contemporary art history, not Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts—but do we live in a world where new constellations include stellar nurseries, or is our galaxy made up of dying stars?
by Danielle Sommer, Art in America, April 2013 [print only]
True to its name, Simone Forti’s second solo show at The Box, “Sounding,” featured around a dozen works based on the artist’s renowned performance oeuvre, all with “a central element of sound.” Incorporating props and recordings from past performances, video documentation, photos and drawings, as well as several live performances, the exhibition engaged viewers on multiple levels, including aural. But to expect merely artworks with soundtracks underestimates Forti’s 50-plus-year love affair with phenomenology, as well as her quest to create the kind of awareness that brings the self and its tenuous relation to the rest of the universe into sharp focus.
The show’s centerpiece, Largo Argentina (Rome Cats), 1968/2012, consisted of a white sheet, hanging loosely and undulating in the gentle breeze of a fan. Toward the bottom of the sheet, a digital slideshow of Forti’s photographs of feral cats, taken at Rome’s Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, played in a loop. A wind chime dangled from the sheet, ringing softly and consistently. It was the only noise in the gallery that never ceased; the sounds associated with the other works played on individual headphones, although many were also timed to broadcast once an hour through various speakers, sometimes overlapping one another.
Viewers familiar with Forti may have recognized props from some of her more famous pieces, such as the loop of sturdy rope she created for Accompaniment for La Monte’s ‘2 sounds’ (1961). The rope hangs in a “U” shape from the ceiling and stops just a few feet off the floor. When Accompaniment is performed (as it was several times during this show’s run), a dancer steps onto the rope at the beginning of La Monte Young’s agonizing Minimalist score. The rope is wound tightly by another performer and then released. The unwinding happens quickly, after which the performer remains stationary, giving the viewer something to focus on, and through that focus, hopefully the discipline to stay still and listen to Young’s composition, a 12-minute cacophony in which one person scrapes a bucket against a glass door while another scrapes cans on a window. For “Sounding,” a recording of Young’s work played once a day.
It’s tempting to interpret Forti’s project as one of translating sound into movement, as with Accompaniment, or movement into sound, as with Song of the Vowels (2012). For the latter piece, Forti’s drawings of Jacques Lipchitz’s Cubist sculpture of a harp (The Song of the Vowels, 1931-32) hung on the gallery wall next to a video in which Forti performed the drawings by interpreting them as a score. Allowing herself only short and long vowel sounds, she used her entire body as she made sounds like “Eee eee eee” and “Oh-uuuuu,” activating Lipchitz’s rendition of the instrument.
Over and over in “Sounding,” Forti mixed stillness and focus with dissonance, or items with “soft” and “hard” characteristics, such as in Censor (1961), a recording of the artist singing an Italian folk song while rattling nails in a metal bowl. In her autobiography-cum-instruction-manual, Handbook in Motion (1974), she describes her interest as being less in simple cause-and-effect relationships and more in the “juxtaposition of qualities or concerns, from which would emerge a third quality.” Rather than replacing one sensation or action with another, Forti positions her materials-whether they are images, sounds, words or movements-atop and among each other, constantly willing her audience to notice itself noticing, and through this, to accept the magic of being in between.
Los Angeles-based artist April Street keeps track of her dreams. Moreover, she keeps track of the twists and turns she makes while she dreams, which she later reenacts in her studio. Street, who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before leaving to finish her degree in Tennessee, uses her body as a brush, wrapping herself in hosiery fabric (similar to the kind found on the inside of swimsuits) and lying atop paint-pooled canvases, imprinting them as she re-creates her sleep gestures.
The resulting paintings look gestural yet controlled: Street repaints the body impressions with more intentional mark making. In her recent show, “Portraits and Ropes,” at Culver City’s Carter & Citizen, however, these original images were hidden from view. In the new work, Street covers the canvases with the paint-streaked hosiery fabric, like flesh over bone. She treats it as a drapery, which she sometimes pins, twists or pulls taut. She also sometimes lets gravity take over.
Street’s work straddles painting and sculpture, and it nods toward both Abstract Expressionism and ’60s and ’70s femi- nist performance art. The most striking pieces have a sense of tension, often created by the treatment of the cloth. Pink Rope (2012) consists of a large piece of fabric twisted into a single, slender ropelike form, which retains its shape solely through the weight of a cast bronze knot at the bottom and a pair of tacks.
The show’s anchor piece, Man has always doubled himself as a means of understanding himself (2012), induces a visceral response: two canvases hanging several inches apart are enveloped in and connected by a swath of hosiery, which droops between them like a wrinkled umbilical cord. The impressions of the artist’s body are evidenced in purple, green and orange smears of paint that accumulate where the hosiery sags.
What’s most fascinating about Street’s work cannot be attributed solely to the artfulness of the draping technique. Part of the recipe is the fleshy and troublesome nature of hosiery fabric itself, which has an enigmatic translucency and heaviness. The beige color contributes to a muddy overall palette, dependent on olive green, eggplant and midnight blue, with the occasional streak of a brighter hue. There was beauty to be found in “Portraits and Ropes,” but there was also a feeling of unease, or even disgust, which underscores the show’s involvement with the abject.
Like Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Carolee Schneemann, Street creates work of such confusing sensuality that it can be difficult to look at and hard to process, particularly as a viewer tries to parse the various distinctions between subject and object. The draping technique is a new step for Street, whose work previously foregrounded the painted surface that is now obscured. Though full of color, the older works are less interesting visually and less tight conceptually; one hopes Street continues in this new direction.
If we don’t, remember me takes its title from that pinnacle of noir cinema, Kiss Me Deadly. The film kicks off with private eye Mike Hammer winding his way down a dark and lonely road somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. From out of nowhere, a woman appears—the terrified but caustic Christina Bailey, who asks Hammer for a ride to the city and demands he drop her at the first bus stop.
“Get me to that bus stop and forget you ever saw me. If we don’t make it to the bus stop…”
“We will,” Hammer promises.
“If we don’t, remember me.”
Bailey, of course, ends up dead, and Hammer spends the rest of the film chasing down who done it. The climax of Kiss Me Deadly shows Hammer with a box of radioactive material, staring at an uncertain future—in the process of keeping his promise to Bailey, he has been transformed, possibly even killed. Following the spirit of the film, If we don’t, remember me features a group of artists, each obsessed with “remembering” (literally “to bring to mind, again”), and each with his or her own relationship to the role of cultural detritus in the process.
Gustaf Mantel’s Tumblr, If we don’t, remember me, features animated gifs paired with quotes, snipped from films as diverse as The Conversation (1974), Suspira (1977), Ghost World (2001), and Sedmikrásky (1966). The most successful and haunting are those with only a whisper of movement, which somehow evoke the mood of the film without needing to restage it.
Alicia Escott describes her art practice as a way of connecting the speed of change today with the speed of change in the geologic history of the planet, at the same time retelling the stories of our civilization. Her series, Letters Sent Sometime After The Continents Divorced, contains love letters written to extinct species and sent to unsuspecting friends. Escott poignantly takes on the cumbersome task of blending collective and individual memory, armed only with stationary.
The San Francisco Guerrilla Opera stages impromptu and unpermitted public ‘operas’ using a variety of cultural texts as librettos, including 500 pages of leaked United States embassy cables provided by Wikileaks, the Wall Street Journal, and Verizon’s advertising mantra, “Can you hear me now?”
Liz Glynn rose to prominence with her work The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project (2008 and 2009), which she’s performed three times, each time challenging her audience to build as much of Rome as possible. If we don’t, remember me includes excerpts from the less-well-known “Destruction Karaoke” (2011), in which singers destroy their possessions, and from the exhibition No Second Troy (2012), in which Glynn smuggled handmade, paper-mâché copies of actual artifacts into several museums and historical sites.
Kate Copeland’s Security Envelope Series is a multi-layered investigation of materiality, time, and memory. Copeland uses the outmoded technology of salt-printing to capture the delicate beauty of a series of used security envelopes, each of which shows the trace of many hands. Salt printing captures the fine detail in some parts of the print, even as it creates a loss of detail in other areas.
My day job (radio production) can complement my night job (arts writing), but there are times when weeks pass without the twain meeting. At our Los Angeles-based talk program, MOCA’s loss of former curator Paul Schimmel did not go unnoticed, but neither did it tantalize, at least not until my senior producer saw the following headline: “Museums Are About the Art, Not Racking Up Big Numbers on Crowds and Revenue.” The article, written by Blake Gopnick for The Daily Beast, rails against a recent op-ed by Eli Broad in the Los Angeles Times, in which Broad defends MOCA in the language of a business institution striving “to grow its client base” (Gopnick’s wording), or “make MOCA a populist rather than an insular institution” (Broad’s wording).
Gopnick argues “that museums should make [great] art available—to the absolutely largest number of people who are looking for that kind of thing, and not for something else.” And while Gopnick’s thinking has issues of its own (elevating some forms of art and artists over others), I agree with his overall point. Showcasing great artwork should be an art museum’s first goal, even if it draws fewer numbers and leaves the institution open to a charge of ‘insularity.’
I don’t think it’s the art institutions that are manifesting signs of insularity, however. Oh, sure, I understand and even agree with the logic behind wanting to make MOCA more “populist,” which for Broad apparently means accessible, but the adjective “insular” is misapplied. The word, from the late Latin insula, or ‘island,’ means “uninterested,” at least in cultures or ideas outside of one’s own experience. If anything, it is the population that MOCA hopes to attract which time and again proves itself insular, only interested in the most spectacular art exhibits, or exhibits immediately reflective of its own experience, instead of those that attempt to open a window into a different (and perhaps more challenging) way of thinking about the world and its surroundings.
Curators like Paul Schimmel are the middle ground, not a force for insularity. In fact, the saga of Schimmel and MOCA reminds me of another curatorial conflict from the early twentieth century, that between art historian Aby Warburg and his librarian and assistant, Fritz Saxl. The eldest son of three, Warburg was born into a well-to-do Jewish banking family in mid-19th century Hamburg. As such, his role should have been to take over the family business for his father, but on his thirteenth birthday, Warburg offered this position to his youngest brother, Max, in exchange for the promise that “Max would buy him all the books he ever wanted.” Max kept his promise; by 1914, Warburg had amassed somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 volumes, most of which were related to history, art, psychology, and religion. These volumes became the Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg – a research institute located in Hamburg that attracted scholars from all over Europe and America – and, eventually, the Warburg Institute, one of the more important art-historical think tanks of the last century.
Before Saxl stepped in, however, Warburg’s project was just too messy, too overwhelming – an unfiltered investigation of “the role of the coining of images as a process of civilization,” with no order outside of Warburg’s own “law of the good neighbor,” which he used to organize the thousands of texts in his library. “Although grouped under such general rubrics as anthropology and art history, both the various sections and the books within them were arranged according to their ability to engage with the books on either side of them. A line of speculation opening in one volume was attested to or attacked, continued or contradicted, refined or refuted in its neighbor. Each book was to answer or ask a question of the one next to it.” Warburg’s system — though inspired — was a nightmare to negotiate, and alienated many of his visitors until Saxl imposed a cataloging system of his own.
A romantic might read the tale above and extrapolate that I mean Warburg to stand in for Schimmel, but in reality, Schimmel has more in common with Saxl: known for shows that offered “critical, scholarly investigation[s] of contempoary art,” Schimmel helped provide context to contemporary art, arguing for its relevancy and providing the inroads that allowed visitors to make intellectual (and emotional) connections to the artwork on display. In these ways, curators like Schimmel are the true antidotes to the stubborn insularity of American popular culture. While I agree with Eli Broad’s desire to see a financially stable MOCA, he should be just as concerned with the museum’s potential to churn out less challenging exhibitions based solely on spectacle or supposed confluence with mainstream culture — while it might draw higher numbers at first, this kind of curatorial plan could also backfire, leaving the public even more disinterested in contemporary art than they are already. We haven’t run the piece on what museums are for yet, but based on past experience, I predict the sound of crickets from our phones.
 Manguel, 200.
 Leland de la Durantaye, “Preface: The Law of the Good Neighbor,” in Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009).
 Ibid., 302.
This past Sunday, under the beating hot Los Angeles sun, LACMA finally held its inauguration ceremony for “Levitated Mass,” the 340-ton piece of California granite which traveled for 11 days at 8 miles an hour through Southern California, eventually to be placed across a 456-foot long trench in the northwest quadrant of LACMA’s campus.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there (his speech was mediocre). County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was there (his speech was better). Michael Govan, the museum director, was there (“silver-tongued” is the adjective that comes to mind). Michael Heizer was also there (he did not give a speech, although he made himself available for questions after the ceremony ended).
The ceremony marked the climax of a decades-long process, the last six to eight months of which having been picked over by journalists, critics, and the general public — most especially Angelenos, from whom the most common outcry was, “$10 million for a rock?’
As William Poundstone writes for Artinfo, “The reactions to Levitated Mass (of Internet posters who haven’t seen it) might be worth a future doctoral thesis. Initially it was political. Conservatives were itching to condemn it as a waste of taxpayer money, only to be flummoxed by the awkward fact that the money was 100 percent private sector. Liberals faulted it for privileging the dominion of “man” over nature (though having seen it, I tend to read it the opposite way. Who’s on top, humans or rock?) In the past few days, the main thesis of commenters has been that it’s not “levitating,” ergo contemporary art is a con game (“What FREAKING waste of time and money. … Thats’ not Art, It’s STUPID! DUMB!”).”
So now that the rock is in place, and all of the museum’s cards are on the table, what is to be made of the finished product? Was it worth it?
Here are a few complaints: the slot is a little too wide for the mass to feel like it’s levitating. Straddling might be a more appropriate verb. For all the fanfare made over moving such a large mass, it still seems smaller than expected, especially when compared to the trench and the rest of LACMA’s buildings. And the choice to leave the surrounding area bare gives one a curious feeling of emptiness, rather than overwhelming mass and power.
I brought these complaints up the next day in conversation with an artist friend, who looked at me and said, “Yes, but that’s Heizer, isn’t it? The dramatically anti-dramatic.” This sentiment, along with another from William Poundstone (he quotes Ed Ruscha’s axiom that “good art should provoke a response of ‘Huh? Wow!’ rather than ‘Wow! Huh?’”) struck a chord.
In many ways, Michael Govan and Michael Heizer have achieved the impossible, making a spectacle out of the ordinary. The rock is a rock. I spoke with Govan about the choice to leave the area surrounding the trench bare, which he emphatically and adamantly argued was a necessity, meant to function as a desert void in a city without enough emptiness of its own, and perhaps he’s right. Amidst its bare surroundings, “Levitated Mass” transcends being mere plop art and invites earnest contemplation, if you allow it.
Los Angeles is a city of illusions. Over at MOCA, Jeffrey Deitch seems to have embraced this approach, offering flashy, staged shows that pack in crowds and falter in their substance after multiple viewings (James Franco’s “Rebel” and Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Sky Ladder” come to mind). If that’s what it takes to secure the funding for less popular exhibits, so be it. But congratulations to LACMA for finding a way to wrap it all into one, 340-ton bundle.
To investigate an experience, we often turn to its physical detritus. We collect it, savor it, fetishize it—even reproduce it. If none exists, we will go so far as to create it. Pop-Up Library: The Collectors showcases work based on this impulse. Each artist or group featured has been struck by a particular moment, place, experience, or event. Each artist has found his or her own way of attempting to return to the moment, to freeze or expand it, to critique it or reproduce it.
The Collectors is the first in a series of themed Special Editions featuring works pulled from our stacks.
On view at Monte Vista Projects, June 2 - July 1, 2012.
Landfill Quarterly is an online archive, quarterly subscription service, and print journal that studies socially engaged artworks by way of the surplus materials they produce.
James Bridle’s The Iraq War looks at ten years of Wikipedia revisions in relation to the Iraq War as a framework for understanding the genesis of historical fact—what is allowed to stand and what is not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.
Ida Rödén’s The Cellar in the Attic uses a collection of photographs documenting interior doors, windows, and staircases to create a fictional history.
Erica Van Horn has co-operated Coracle Press for decades. Over the course of that time, Van Horn has produced countless editions of artist’s chapbooks listing everyday objects.
The first time Dutch artist Hans Waanders saw a kingfisher, it was 1982. Despite its near-ubiquitous status—various species of kingfisher can be found on nearly every continent—the occurrence left him transformed. Alec Finlay, a friend of Waanders, later translated the event into words: “a sudden flash of blue, flash of gold, iridescent; just above the water’s surface.” Waanders dedicated years to the bird, creating hundreds of prints and artist’s publications based on its habits and specifications. Most of these works involved an obsessive reordering of images and excerpts from birding guides, culminating in a series of new “guides” that feature kingfishers exclusively. In 1999, however, Waanders went into the field, installing a series of perches on bodies of water in various parts of Europe, including France, Scotland, and The Netherlands. Kingfishers hunt and fish by swooping down off such resting places; Waanders’ perches, small and unobtrusive sticks usually located along rocky or muddy banks, were meant as open invitations. “Fishing Perches,” a limited edition, offset, accordion-style artist’s publication published by Pont La Vue Press in New York, documents some of them. The book evidences a sense of humor, but also loss. Despite the proof of his devotion, the kingfisher never appears—we are left, like Waanders, staring at negative space.
The Portuguese artist Ricardo Gouveia, or Rigo 23, might be best known for his series of larger-than-life, one-way-sign-inspired murals, painted on buildings across San Francisco, where the artist has lived since the 1980s. For the better part of the last decade, however, Rigo 23 has produced a series of projects with underserved and underrepresented communities. The latest of these, Programa Espacial Autónomo InterGalactico (Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program), has just docked at REDCAT, CalArt’s theater and gallery space in downtown Los Angeles.
The culmination of more than three years of coordination and labor by Rigo 23 and artisans from Chiapas, Mexico, as well as members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), Programa Espacial represents a convergence of multiple worlds.1 When Rigo 23 met with the members of the Good Government Junta of Morelia, Chiapas, to propose a collaborative art project between himself and artists from the region, he asked, “What would happen if they got an invitation to attend an intergalactic meeting somewhere other than the Milky Way; how would they travel?”2 The junta members accepted this proposal but made it clear that the project was not a priority and would only be accomplished if he won the support of a local artist.
Because Programa Espacial is a collaborative project between an artist and various indigenous communities, and because those communities are under the jurisdiction of the EZLN, the exhibit brings up questions of commodification and appropriation, but these questions seem to have been of lesser interest to Rigo 23 than the question of positionality. The spiraling path a viewer takes through the exhibit evokes (within the limits of California’s fire code) the curve of a snail’s shell, creating interplay between a viewer’s sense of being sympathetically “inside” the EZLN looking out, or an outsider looking in.3
Upon entering the gallery, visitors find themselves at the first of many thresholds, facing a long, wooden fence covered by a mural depicting three masked Zapatista figures: one male, one female, and one child. The figures stride across the Earth, machetes in one hand and torches in the other. They occupy the center of the composition, next to a list of EZLN demands. To each side of this trio extends the galaxy, full of stars and other celestial bodies like the moon and the sun, all wearing their own black balaclavas, or pasamontañas.4
On either side of the mural are openings. The opening on the right leads to the back of the gallery space, to a room full of artifacts accumulated by Rigo 23 during his stay in Chiapas. These include colorful, acrylic paintings of Zapatista figures accompanied by phrases like “Mas de 500 años en resistencia !ya basta¡” and “Nunca mas la humillacion y el desprecio,” dark woven fabrics embroidered with constellations, and individually acquired fabric squares sewn into quilts, or telas.5 Much of the imagery and iconography in these objects—masked Zapatistas holding machetes, torches, and even video cameras, often fighting a dragon that represents organizations like the WTO and NAFTA, surrounded by depictions of nature, as well as transmission satellites—is taken up throughout the rest of the exhibit.
The other entrance opens to a long, narrow hallway, the sides of which have been cobbled together out of brightly painted wood planks and doors, giving the appearance of an alleyway in Chiapas. This interplay between inside and outside continues along the wall to the right, which is punctured by rectangular peepholes, their shape echoing the eyeholes of a pasamontaña, that look into the center of the exhibit. To peer through them is to effectively see through the eyes of the EZLN. Other peepholes along the way look onto videos that show the artisans who worked on the project, as well as footage of an EZLN protest in San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas.
At the exhibit’s center hangs a model of a large, wooden spaceship, shaped like an ear of corn, full of actual soil and suspended from the ceiling to give the appearance of flying horizontally through space.6 The husk, or skin of the ship, is made of long, thin strips of wood, and tens of woven baskets meant to represent individual kernels erupt from its back, each carrying a picture of a masked Zapatista. Sculptures of a bandana-wearing moon, a sequined-balaclava-wearing sun, and a transmission satellite that uses video footage of actual Zapatista eyes looking through their masks, all hang at various points in the room and give the impression of a strange, science-fiction movie set.
On the ship’s prow sit three carved, wooden snails with human faces, wearing pasamontañas, and two tiny Zapatista dolls man the helm. Small, rectangular peepholes (of the same shape as those in the passageways) provide glimpses of miniature dioramas inside the ship, including a bedroom, a classroom, and a basketball court. At this point the viewer experiences a shift in position yet again, from being at the exhibit’s center, to peering into yet another interior space from the outside.
Programa Espacial is about thresholds, about drawing attention to those moments when inside meets outside. Such experiences stand as counterparts to the worlds-within-worlds cosmology reflected in the exhibit’s layout and content. Both are crucial tenets of the Zapatista’s worldview, which Rigo 23’s collaborative project articulates in good faith without coming off as opportunistic or exploitative. This fact itself is rare enough to make it worth the visit.
1. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation first rose to prominence in 1994, after the organization seized various cities, towns, and estates in the Mexican state of Chiapas by force. The initial goal was to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement and to regain control of the region’s land for its various indigenous communities. The EZLN considers itself to be fighting a “War Against Oblivion,” and the realization of a world in which many worlds can fit is a key goal in that war. See John Ross, The War Against Oblivion: The Zapatista Chronicles 1994-2000 (Common Courage Press, 2002).
Over the past decade especially, the Mexican government has taken a hands-off approach with the Zapatista Army, in essence ceding it control of five zones, or caracoles, in Chiapas although no formal transfer of power has been declared. Anyone can visit Chiapas, but access to the caracoles depends on how well a visitor makes their case for entrance. Each caracol is governed by a Board of Good Government (or junta), the members of which are chosen by consensus; these members hear visitors’ cases. Note: caracol is Spanish for snail.
2. Rigo 23 found the metaphor of Earth as a ship, or spaceship, in Zapatista writings, which interweave Mayan cosmology and place quite a bit of importance on transmission devices (spaceships, shells, satellites, and video cameras, for example).
3. As a place where “inside meets outside,” the snail shell is a highly potent symbol for the EZLN, as well as an icon for speech.
4. Members of the EZLN wear pasamontañas over their faces, with a wide, rectangular opening for the eyes, in order to hide individual identities and emphasize one common identity: the exploited, indigenous underclass whose way of life they feel is in danger.
5. “More than 500 years of resistance is enough!” and “No more humiliation or contempt,” respectively.
6. Corn is still the most important nutrient for the indigenous Mayan communities that make up the EZLN. The image of the corn ship appears in works by local artists.
What makes a tale “twice told”? For Nathaniel Hawthorne, who published a collection called Twice Told Tales, these were stories that had already lived one life by having been previously printed. And for William Shakespeare, who coined the phrase, a “twice-told tale” was the most tedious tale of the lot, borrowed and uninspired. Shakespeare, however, had not met Stephanie Washburn.
In the case of Washburn’s “Twice Told,” on view at the Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles, the tales that repeat belong to the endless stream of images and narratives available through the television set. Washburn, a painter, breaks the fourth wall by reacting to this stream, turning the television on and smearing her screen with not just paint, but everyday household items like butter, tape, bread, and potatoes. She then sets up a Hasselblad digital camera, and snaps a picture.
The resulting images, which Washburn calls “television drawings,” don’t look much like drawings; nor is the television screen easy to spot. From a distance, many look like abstract expressionist paintings. The spaghetti strewn across the screen in Reception 2, 2011,and Reception 9, 2011, initially calls to mind the gestures of Jackson Pollock, although thoughts of the fleshy materiality and subversive humor of many 1970s feminist artists follow quickly.
For many of the images, including Reception 4, 5, and 13 (all 2011), it’s almost impossible to make out any specific background image beyond a field of color. The television’s tell, of course, is its glow, and that glow permeates Washburn’s images: warm in some and cool in others, at times penetrating swathes of paint and at other times merely strengthening the shadows of dimensional objects.
This interplay of the television image and Washburn’s interventions occurs not just formally (in terms of light and shadow, or scale), but figuratively. In Reception 1, 2011, a rubber-gloved hand creeps onto the scene from the bottom left of the image; blending almost perfectly with a group of three hands in the background, except for the fact that the intervening hand (the gloved hand) has a deep shadow to emphasize its physicality.
The beauty and power of Washburn’s work comes from how effortlessly the images marry both formal and conceptual references to a variety of traditionally “opposed” relationships: digital and physical, visceral and cerebral, touch and sight. It’s no wonder that the series is called “Reception” – Washburn’s photographs don’t just rework old narratives and images into new forms, but challenge us to consider our role as media consumers in the 21st century.
The New York City Department of Education drew all kinds of mockery last week after someone leaked a list of 50-plus banned words off of one of its Request for Proposals (RFP). In this case, the RFP had been sent to a variety of publishers the city hoped might revamp its standardized English and math tests.
The banned words were meant to spare New York students from topics “controversial among the adult population, […] overused in standardized tests or textbooks, [or…] biased against (or toward) some group of people,” but the NYC D o’ E found itself widely criticized for being overly ‘politically correct.’ Perhaps the most damning accusations were those that insisted that such tests would remove a child’s ability to think critically when pushed outside his or her comfort zone. The Department of Education’s statement indicated that it feared these words might “distract” students.
We here at #hashtags whole-heartedly agree. Who needs the distraction of a phrase like “homes with swimming pools” when you’ve been raised without one? One need only look at the work of David Hockney for an example of the dangers of this kind of confrontation. After over twenty years in England, Hockney visited California in the mid-‘60s and was so struck by the plethora of pools that the object became a regular feature in his work, from its first appearance in the corner of California Art Collector, 1964 to its presence in composite Polaroids like Brian Los Angeles Sunday 21st March 1982, 1982.
And the story deteriorates from there – instead of sticking to images of unattainable, unpopulated swimming pools amidst modern architectural surroundings, Hockney also found himself “distracted” by the eroticism of the bodies that moved in and out of the water – in his case, male bodies.
Yes, when it comes to depicting the limpid and chlorinated pools of the Southern Californian upper-crust, Hockney’s body of work remains proof that still waters run deep. God forbid that any child with a New York public-school education be forced to meditate on the socio-economic differences between homes with private swimming pools and homes without, the relationship between the swimming pool and the history of integration and race relations, or the swimming pool as a site of sexuality and eroticism. You never know when that child might end up embracing his or her new relationship to such an object and re-shaping its cultural narrative. 
Was Thomas Kinkade, who passed away on April 6, a great American artist à la Norman Rockwell and Currier and Ives, or just one more banal genre artist among many? What is it about his ready-to-hang living room oils that people find so attractive or repulsive?
Besides paintings and lithographs, the self-named Painter of Light™ has left behind a shockingly polarized reputation – shocking, that is, for an artist who specialized in such seemingly innocuous imagery, like cottages and bucolic villages, often bathed in the pink glow of sunset. In short, you either love him or hate him.
“A lot of people felt very passionately about him, and I think that that in the art world, if a lot of people like you there immediately becomes this sort of backlash effect,” said Alexis L. Boylan, an art history professor and editor of an anthology of wrtings on Thomas Kinkade. “I think he also spoke very eloquently and powerfully to a lot of things that people don’t want to hear about art and commercialism.”
Kinkade claimed to be the country’s most collected artist, with paintings in one out of every twenty United States homes, although most major art institutions refused to touch him. His works have been licensed many times for anything from greeting cards to Kinkade-branded floral arrangements.
“He was very clear about wanting to get his work into a lot of people’s hands and a lot of people’s homes and that sort of set off some people,” said Boylan. “In addition to that some people just didn’t like his work. They think his work is banal, think his work is too easy.”
Kinkade didn’t seem to care about this reputation, and for good reason. By some estimates, Kinkade’s business model, which combined factory reproductions with original pieces, brought in $100 million a year.
Taking issue with the process
One aspect of Kinkade art that many people find off-putting is the factory-like method that he employed when creating prints of his pieces. Much like artists Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, Kinkade employed a number of studio assistants to help create multiple prints of his famous oils.
“Most major artists who are producing numerous works for patrons and museums at this point have to have studio assistants,” said Boylan. “Those studio assistants do all kinds of work, and some artists are very clear about what they exactly are producing and not producing and some are not.”
Writer Laura Miller of Salon.com puts it eloquently when she describes Kinkade’s production method as, “a semi-industrial process in which low-level apprentices embellish a prefab base provided by Kinkade.” In other words, Kinkade designed and painted all of his works, but the ones you’re likely to own were printed factory-like and touched up with manual brush strokes from someone other than Kinkade.
“Kinkade designed and painted all of his works and then they were moved into the next stage of process into prints,” said Boylan. “He did have a hand in most of the original, conceptual work that he produced.”
Still, despite this mass-produced nature of Kinkade’s work, he remains a cultural icon. In the days after his death, Kinkade’s website and stores continue to be flooded with fans looking to purchase his art, despite media sites like “The Street” putting his works on its list of “Completely Worthless Collectibles.”
Whether you’re a business or an individual, if you’re online, you’re using images. But who owns the images and how carefully are people paying attention to copyright? Recent reports estimate that 70% of all Facebook activities – from “liking” to commenting – revolve around photos, and Pinterest, the newest name in the online image game with over 16 million monthly users, is bringing copyright issues to the fore.
Pinterest users set up digital “bulletin boards” and populate these boards with images they find online by “pinning” (or copying) them, and not always with permission from the image owners. While clicking on many of these images will often link you back to the original website and most Pinterest users are careful to credit photographers and artists, the practice has left many content producers upset, arguing that it is now possible to violate copyright with the click of a button. For its part, Pinterest has created a code that websites can install if they want to ensure their photos can’t be “pinned,” but most of these websites feel the onus should be on Pinterest to more clearly communicate about copyright with its users.
While the dust has (mostly) settled on early blogosphere squabbling about unauthorized reposting of written content, are we in for a new era of arguments about image permissions? Have you ever considered that you might not have the right to repost that image of those wedding dresses you love? Join Patt as she susses out who loses and who wins when it comes to the image wars.
If you’re young and female, I hope you’re introduced to a positive mentor early enough to build a strong sense of self-worth, because in 2012, American society still refuses to make it easy for you to maintain one. Looking at the last few months, women’s rights seem to be in retrograde, with the obvious example being the tone of the Republican campaign. But if you need more proof: so far this decade we have seen Hillary Clinton and a female aide photoshopped out of situation room documentation of the moment Osama Bin Laden’s death was announced, Fox News’ Greta van Susteren’s decision to ask Sarah Palin on-air whether she’d gotten breast implants, and an attack ad against Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Hahn comparing – even conflating – Hahn with a pole dancer.
And then last week there was that little Rush Limbaugh thing. You know, where he repeatedly attacked, on air, a woman that he first identified as “Susan Fluke.” Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, had argued in front of Congress that private health insurers such as her own should be required to make birth control available at affordable rates. Fluke collected the stories of friends and fellow students, ultimately testifying that women rely on birth control not just for contraception, but in their treatment of other health issues, like ovarian cysts. For her trouble, Limbaugh called Fluke a slut and a prostitute, demanded that she put her sex videos online, and even suggested that by forcing insurers to provide this option, the taxpayer would take on the role of pimp.
Unfortunately for Limbaugh, Fluke turned out to be nothing like his stereotypes – he had her pegged as a ditzy undergraduate, not the articulate and thoughtful speaker that she is. Fluke met Limbaugh’s comments with a press tour of her own, putting her remarks (and his) into context and reshaping the narrative that Limbaugh had twisted, so much so that Limbaugh eventually offered a limp apology.
Despite this apology and reports of sponsors fleeing Limbaugh’s franchise, however, when it comes to talking about women and sex, the reality is that American society remains in a rut – a rut reflected not just by Limbaugh but men like Foster Friess, or even Bill Maher, whose “whoops, there’s a dick in me” segment about Bristol Palin might just be the most hateful of the three. And most women aren’t helping – take Sarah Palin’s goofy-grin-cum-struggle-to-maintain-composure after Greta dropped her implant bomb. Why not have a conversation right then and there about the inappropriate nature of the question, instead of replying, “Greta, we love you for not being afraid of asking the question,” which is the course that Palin chose. More extreme would be Whitney Houston’s flabbergasted, speechless, but round-mouthed response to Serge Gainsbourg’s explicitly statement that he wanted to f@#% her on a French morning show.
What is disheartening is that we – women, feminists, whatever we call ourselves – have already fought this fight. To take our cue from art history, we spent centuries moving beyond being the coy and quiet female Venuses of Titian and Giorgione, and now we’re back in 1865, the year Édouard Manet showed one of the most controversial paintings of the 19th-century: Olympia.
Based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino, itself thought to be based on the Sleeping Venus of Giorgione, the painting shows a nude woman, reclining yet still upright, her left leg crossed over her right, the palm of her left hand placed firmly across her genitalia so her fingers rest against her right upper thigh. She looks toward the viewer of the painting, perhaps a little downward, but only a little. Her backless, heeled slippers are sumptuous, and her gold bracelet weighty. Around her neck is a dainty black ribbon, tied in a bow, the line of which is echoed by the heavily-shadowed outer contour of the left side of her body, the darkness of which is picked up again by the skin tones of a maid (who brings a suitor or client’s flowers) and a black cat, both of which fade into the shadows of the rooms behind them.
Titian had also shocked his audiences with his painting, which, although it did tell the story of a goddess, did so in uncharacteristically sensual terms for the period. This Venus also met her viewer’s gaze head on, rather than playing at ignorance and coyness – perhaps this is what attracted Manet in the first place. Olympia shocked not for its nudity, but for its crudeness: Manet had painted a courtesan or prostitute, and not a goddess; he stepped away from finished allegories rendered in exquisite detail and allowed three nameless figures the center stage; he dared to give his Olympia a look and posture that did not invite, one in which she guards her sex instead of ambiguously fondling it for a voyeur; and, lastly, Manet had left his own hand visible, with brush strokes that (in places) fell apart under the lightest of scrutiny.
Recognizing the irony of what I’m about to say, there is a piece of Olympia, Manet’s courtesan, in Sandra Fluke. Both figures emit strength and the determination to meet detractors head on, as well as a refusal to let those detractors drive the narrative. But there is something missing, in art and in our cultural discourse on being woman and the balance of sexual power between men and women. I believe we saw it last in the 60s and the 70s with women like Angela Davis, as well as artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson and Lynda Benglis. Whatever it is, I hope we find it again fast.
If all went according to plan this Saturday morning, the L.A. County Museum of Art received its newest and largest acquisition: a 340-ton granite boulder, which will sit on top of a 456-foot-long concrete slot – walkable by museum visitors – in LACMA’s north lawn. Known as “Levitated Mass,” it’s the result of over 40 years of work by artist Michael Heizer and a slow, eleven-day journey winding along dozens of Greater LA surface streets. But where did it come from? And why that rock?
“They claim we went to the moon, but they didn’t have to go through thirteen, fourteen cities in Southern California to get there. That’s the only reason they made it.”
So says Danny Johnston, a retired rock salesman and project coordinator for Paul Hubbs Construction, which operated Riverside’s Stone Valley Quarry at the time that artist Michael Heizer found the boulder. Heizer started as an artist in the 1960s as part of the land art movement, using earth and stone as his medium. Most of his work can’t be seen in a museum but in remote parts of the Nevada and California desert.
Heizer first visited the Stone Valley Quarry early last decade. According to Johnston, Heizer started “small,” selecting 8- to 10-ton rocks, and then moved on to 60-and 70-ton rocks, which he relocated to Nevada.
“And as time went on he told me about this one deal he’d always been looking for a big enough rock to do…” Heizer had originally sketched out “Levitated Mass” in 1968, but failed to find the backing. And his vision hadn’t gotten smaller – with memories of trips to ancient Egyptian and Mexican ruins with his father, an anthropological archeologist, Heizer “was wanting a 1000-ton rock.”
And then one day in 2005, after a mostly routine blast in the quarry, the rock appeared.
“Well, it kind of reminded me of a big chocolate kiss, you know, the little ones? The shape is similar to that, it sat right down on the bottom of the big part and went up pretty much to a point, you know. I thought it was a neat-looking rock because it had different faces, you know, it wasn’t square or round – it looked like a cut stone, almost.”
Johnston immediately called Heizer.
“And sure enough, as soon as he seen it, he knew which one I was talking about.” The next thing Johnston said? “I told ‘em, I said the thing is, Mike – it’s huge. You can’t move it, it’s too big. There’s no way that one’s going to go.”
They auditioned company after company for the job.
“We had a guy, and I won’t mention any names, but they had two D-11’s and a 992, that’s the largest Caterpillar loader and the two largest dozers; all three of them hooked to that, trying to pull it away from the face, so it wouldn’t be damaged, and they moved it six inches. All day long. Five hours on it. That’s how massive and heavy this rock is.”
Four years later, LACMA finally found a suitor for the rock in Emmert International. Emmert employee Rick Albrecht supervised the move. Albrecht said the company had to design a trailer specifically for the job—one of the largest of its kind.
“What we built is a carrier beam trailer. The main frame is 132 foot long, or 27 foot wide. The piece is suspended inside the carrier, and it’s holding the weight of the rock and stabilizing it, and this is what we’ll use to transport down the road. Our overall length will be 274 feet from bumper to bumper, from pull truck to push truck, and we basically will just roll down the road and we’ll get there in 10 days.”
Michael Govan is the director of LACMA and a longtime friend of Heizer’s. Part of his vision for LACMA is to anchor the museum with large-scale sculptures like “Levitated Mass.”
“There’s something very magical about a large stone – so many ancient cultures made large-scale architectonic sculptures because it has such emotional power. I think that’s what the sculpture is intended to inspire in the viewer.”
Govan added, “I know the press has given a lot of attention to this 340-ton megalith, but the sculpture is the marriage and the contrast of two forms: a found object in nature – the rock, which is incredibly beautiful California granite – and the supergeometric, crystalline, modern-looking slot. One is very long, one is concentrated in weight. One is sort of human – made of concrete – one is nature-made. One is sleek and geometric, one is rough. One is very empty (the slot) and one is very weighty (the rock).”
We asked, “Was the title always “Levitated Mass?”
“Yes, Levitated Mass, because – it’s what art is, is to levitate the weight of something of our culture, of history. You levitate something so it can be seen, so it can be light.”
The arrival of rock at LACMA is just the beginning for “Levitated Mass”—the museum has to place and secure the rock, as well as finish landscaping the area around the slot. LACMA says they’re shooting for early summer.