Sunday, March 18, 2012

Who Cares About a Big Rock?

Site of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass project, still under construction at LACMA

When Domenico Fontana moved the Vatican Obelisk to St. Peter's Square in 1586, it was considered a technological marvel of the era, the replication of an engineering feat that had not been accomplished since Antiquity. Even centuries later, when Cleopatra's Needle was relocated to London in 1878, moving such monumental stones was still considered an impressive feat, worthy of attention, praise, and great expense.

Today, naysayers shout down any enthusiasm for such projects. The engineering and transportation difficulties are deemed unimpressive. The expense is considered frivolous, even when drawn from private funds. The artistry is mocked and the concept dismissed. When enthusiasm is expressed, the critics say it is but empty hype.

Well, I don't know if I'll end up liking Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, but the concept is intriguing. The history of art is punctuated with megaliths, obelisks, and grand monuments. I see this work as being a part of that historic continuum, another contribution to this ancient genre of creativity.

Detail of the Moving of the Vatican Obelisk (1586) by Domenico Fontana

I reserve judgment of the work until I see the finished product, but I believe the concept is valid. But is it worth the expense and energy and enthusiasm? These are judgments that can only be made after seeing the end results. History has shown that these monumental projects become the focus of pride and articulate the contemporary zeitgeist down to future generations.

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt and the engineers of Renaissance Italy are long gone, but their monumental legacies endure. Is our civilization too small, too feeble, too self-loathing to even attempt such tasks? Perhaps, we find it crass to posture and proclaim, like Ozymandias, "Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair!"

Here are some vids showcasing the Levitated Mass project:


Engineering at the installation site

Engineering the transportation

First night of the journey

En route

Arrival at LACMA


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