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Big rock exhibit at LACMA will take a few more weeks to install

March 10, 2012 | 10:52 am

Although the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s giant boulder has finally arrived at its new home, it will take at least another month for workers to dismantle its massive transporter and install the new outdoor exhibit.

The 340-ton boulder will be placed on rails spanning a 456-foot-long concrete slot near the museum’s Resnick Pavilion. There, it will form the center of artist Michael Heizer’s sculpture called “Levitated Mass.” When completed, visitors will walk through the slot with the boulder suspended 15 feet overhead.

Heizer’s sculpture will add a “magical and super-modern” ambiance that “conjures imagery of western landscapes of flat open spaces and massive mountains, ancient obelisks and geometrical constructs,” said LACMA Director Michael Govan, who has transformed the museum and its reputation since he was hired in 2006.

In retrospect, the project was “much harder and took much longer than I thought,” Govan said. “After all, it has been six years since Heizer called me from an airport and said, ‘I found the stone for "Levitated Mass." Want it?’ My response: 'Of course!’”

The project's $10-million price-tag has been financed largely by private donors.

What followed were years of engineering, logistics, fund-raising and negotiations with city, county and state officials for more than 100 permits needed to cross jurisdictions.

The rock was hauled from Stone Valley quarry in Riverside County to LACMA on a 200-foot-long transporter specially-built by the Oregon-based company Emmert International. Along the way, the bright red transporter with a top speed of 8 miles per hour awed motorists as it crawled by night, maneuvering through a series of obstacles and surprising encounters.

The first night’s journey was a roundabout, U-shaped route designed to avoid a bridge with Caltrans weight restrictions. The rock crept beneath an overpass in Chino with only six inches of clearance. It was celebrated with a block party in Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood, then squeezed through the middle of a road with only two inches of space between the curb and the wheels of the transporter.

The boulder began the last leg of its journey from a downtown stop at Figueroa Street, between 63rd and 65th streets, passing landmarks including the Coliseum, Exposition Park, the Wiltern Theater, the La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA’s own “Urban Light” installation by artist Chris Burden.

It arrived at LACMA about six months behind schedule. Conspicuously absent at the welcoming party was Heizer, a famously reclusive artist.

The process of removing the rock from the truck, positioning it above the slot in the ground, and breaking down the transporter will take at least two weeks. Then landscaping of the surrounding area begins. The museum doesn’t expect the exhibit to be ready until late spring or early summer.

Emmert Engineer Mark Voss, who designed the transporter, was a bit teary eyed at the thought of breaking down his masterpiece: “I’m kinda sad to take it apart,” he said. “Yeah. It was a really cool transporter.”


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-- Louis Sahagun and Deborah Vankin at LACMA