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Monday 05 Mar 2012

340-tonne boulder makes slow progress from quarry to LACMA for 'levitating' artwork

A project fifty years in the making is coming to fruition in Los Angeles. Artist Michael Heizer has been seeking the perfect rock for his ‘Levitated Mass’ piece for several decades having constructed the artwork in his mind since the 1960s and last week, the centrepiece of this immense project, a 340-tonne, 21.6ft-high boulder, began its snail-paced journey to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Not since the construction of the Ancient Egyptian pyramids has a stone of such proportions been transported over land by man, and as these shots of the rock’s gradual progress clearly show, the techniques used this week are a high-tech variation on the rollers employed by the Ancient Egyptians. The rollers have been replaced by 196 wheels over which the weight of the boulder is equally distributed to minimise damage to the road. It is estimated that LACMA has ploughed between $5m and $10m into moving this sizeable rock, funded through private donations to ‘Transformation: The LACMA Campaign’ from generous philanthropists.

It will take eleven nights to relocate the centrepiece for Heizer’s ‘Levitated Mass’ from the quarry to its new home at LACMA campus, after which it will be hoisted onto a 456ft-long trench behind the Renzo Piano-designed Resnick Pavilion, lined with concrete enabling visitors to walk beneath it. Reaching 15ft deep at the lowest point, this slot allows people to view the granite megalith from all possible angles and is a test of modern engineering.

Moving the boulder is Emmert International, an experienced US transportation company who admit that they have never faced a project of this nature before. As such, creativity was key. Instead of the standard approach of using a crane to lift the rock onto the transporter, Emmert International employed the use of an excavator which pushed the mass on one side and placed a beam beneath it before repeating with the opposite side. Hoists were then slipped beneath. The following video offers a short interview with Emmert’s Rick Albrecht.

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This mammoth project is the latest in a series of earthworks for American artist and designer Michael Heizer, whose past large-scale works include ‘Isolated Mass/Circumflex’, a linear strip of earth extracted in a patch of luscious grass in Houston, Texas in the late 1960s, and ‘Charmstone’, a levitated mass of steel and concrete. Drawn to outsized artistic operations, ‘Levitated Mass’ is arguably the most ambitious project the artist has ever undertaken and the 340-tonne mass of the boulder at the heart of the piece outstrips many historic manmade arrangements of stone, including Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK, the Ahu and Moai at Easter Island, and the granite columns of the Pantheon in Rome.

The rock is due to reach LACMA campus on Saturday 11th March and ‘Levitated Mass’ will open to the public in the spring or early summer of 2012.

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