I’ve been in Los Angeles this week, visiting family. Although I’m not usually a fan of highly cerebral (as opposed to emotional) art, a highlight of the trip for me was Michael Heizer’s piece Levitated Mass at LACMA.
The sculpture consists of a 340-ton boulder perched on top of a long concrete trench, all of which is surrounded by a patch of barren dirt. To me, it’s a work that seems very much about ritual. First, the painstaking process of moving the huge boulder to its current location. Then the experience of visiting itself: little groups of people arrive, hesitate, take pictures. Talk, in the predictably comforting ways we talk when faced with the unfamiliar. (“Is it art?” “That’s not art!”) And finally, file down the long concrete corridor underneath the rock and emerge on the other side with the sense that an obscure something has happened.
For me, the gigantic boulder in a miniature wasteland seems obviously evocative of archeological ruins, the half-fallen temples of ancient Egypt, etc. The act of passing underneath it is ritual stripped to its barest bones: an act that feels significant, although nothing about the object itself or the action offers clues to that importance — and as a result each of us is forced to spend a few seconds scrutinizing our own interpretive process. It is here, we are here: it all means something, although we don’t know why. (Like life in general, I suppose.)