COMMENTARY: Rock On, Establishment Art


We need boulder art


Fred Flintstone would appreciate this.

Right next door to the La Brea Tar Pits (translation: The “The Tar” Tar Pits), the Los Angles County Museum of Art  has plunked down a 340 ton piece of granite, precariously straddling a trench designed so wandering pedestrians can experience of a sense of impending peril. It’s called, somewhat inaccurately, “Levitated Mass.”

Artist Michael Heizer states he had the idea in 1969. The idea seems to have been, “Hey, I’d like to move a big rock from somewhere to somewhere else.” Heady stuff they were smoking back then. Brings a whole new connotation to getting stoned.

In 2012, 43 years and $10 million dollars later, the vision was realized, an homage, we are assured, to human engineering feats performed since prehistoric times-though I don’t think the Druids or Egyptians had access to cranes and semis.

It’s a colossal Found Object, an environmental Ready Made, a hunk of Earth Art dropped into the midst of LA LA Land.

Perhaps the piece is impressive to encounter, in a spectacle kind of way, a geologic variation of the sort of “World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn” offering that small towns dream up as tourist traps.

Perhaps you have to be there. It doesn’t look impressive in photographs. It has all the drama you would expect a bloated public works project to have.

And as the Wikipedia piece on the rock blandly states, “Initial plans for the work described the boulder as being affixed to the trench walls themselves, giving the boulder the appearance of ‘floating’ when viewed from within the trench via optical illusion, hence the work’s title. With the addition of the support shelves, this illusion does not occur.”

Calling it “Bolted to City Bureaucrat Approved Steel Safety Shelves Mass” would be more accurate, but that lacks cachet.

I see this attempt to confabulate a cheap thrill and a big budget with the experience of fine art as evidence of culture establishment floundering. It’s increasingly a strategy being played out: from giant slides to pretentiously ironic pseudo-theme parks, art industry insiders are desperately trying to gain relevance by pretending to to be some kind of second rate carnival. It’s patronizing and pathetic at the same time, and demonstrates they have no sense of what art actually does for people.

What does “Levitated Mass” say about the artist who thought it up? What does it say about the culture that made it? The work maintains a stony silence.

At least in Bedrock, the artist might have been called Pablo Pick-rockso or something.

8 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Rock On, Establishment Art

  1. Fred Flintstone? My first thought was of Indiana Jones scrambling through spider webs to escape the boulder in the cave.

  2. Can it really be art if the only question it raises is “WHY”?

    I am kind of with you on most of your observations although I find myself defending Banksy and the crew because the theme park idea was merely a vehicle, a gallery if you like, to present a vast range of provocative work. The principal irony in my view was its temporariness.

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