LACMA’s Levitated Mass at a Rock-Bottom Price!

Not long ago, while taking one of my periodic trips to the high desert country of California, I happened upon a colossal boulder straddling a stony crevasse. Walking through the gravel-strewn gulch directly beneath the huge rounded mass of rock, I recognized the great boulder as the answer to all my dreams of becoming a postmodern “land artist”.

As it turned out, the gigantic rock was located on private property, and after a friendly talk with the supportive landowner I easily secured rights to the rocky colossus; it remains in storage at its secret undisclosed desert location. I hope to sell my giant rock to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), but first, a little background on the story.

[The artist with his "Alleviated Masses" 100-ton boulder at a secret desert location storage area. Photograph by Jeannine Thorpe © ]
The artist Mark Vallen with his "Alleviated Masses" 100-ton boulder at a secret desert location storage area. Photograph by Jeannine Thorpe ©
If you have been hiding beneath a large rock you might be excused for not knowing that LACMA is spending around $10 million dollars to install a gigantic boulder near the museum’s Resnick Pavilion rear entrance. LACMA is constructing a 15-foot deep, 456-foot-long cement-lined channel over which a 340-ton, 21-foot high granite boulder will be placed. The “conceptual” art piece dreamt up by Michael Heizer will allow people to walk through the trench to see the boulder appear as if it were levitating – hence the title of the work, “Levitated Mass“.

Instead of paying $10 million for Michael Heizer’s 340-ton granite boulder, LACMA can purchase my 100-ton, 10-foot high boulder, titled “Alleviated Masses“, for the amazing low price of only $1 million – that is an incredible savings of $9 million dollars! With such a sweeping reduction in expenditure LACMA can take the amount left over to help create a critically needed first-rate arts curriculum for Los Angeles school children, put into action an expanded artist residency program, and have enough left over for the purchase of artworks from contemporary artists having a hard time due to the economic downturn.

Mr. Heizer’s rock sits in a Riverside, California quarry, swathed in protective plastic and mounted atop a specially constructed 196-wheel transport vehicle. It has waited for bureaucrats and lawyers from several municipalities to give permission for the rock to be moved; a tremendously expensive and hazardous project, for you see, the 340-ton behemoth will tie up traffic and close streets in 22 cities. It will traverse a 105-mile route at eight miles an hour before it reaches its trench at LACMA. By comparison transporting my mere 100-ton rock will be a fantastically simple matter: street closures and traffic jams will be avoided; money and resources will be saved by doing away with bureaucratic red tape; and with the price of gasoline nearing $5 per gallon the savings in fuel expenses alone will be substantial.

LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, told the L.A. Times that the rock in Mr. Heizer’s installation is “ultramodern because it’s self-referential and it’s about the viewer’s experience – it doesn’t represent some god, yet it has the timeless, ancient overtones of cultures that moved monoliths, like the Egyptians, Syrians and Olmecs.”

My boulder may very well be smaller than the $10 million dollar rock used by Mr. Heizer, but I am sure everyone will agree it is no less profound. It is undoubtedly one of the most ultramodern boulders to be discovered anywhere in the world today. With a price tag of only $1 million, my rock does not come complete with overtones of the ancient Egyptians and Syrians, but for the price its near perfect spherical form is nevertheless highly evocative of ancient Olmec monoliths.

Mr. Govan obviously likes to think big, which is clearly the reason he receives annual compensation of $915,000 – more than twice the salary of a sitting U.S. president ($400,000). Heizer’s Levitated Mass is not the only evidence of Mr. Govan’s grandiose way of thinking. Since 2007 he has worked with the King of Kitsch, Jeff Koons, to hang an actual locomotive from a 161-foot-tall crane to be installed on the LACMA campus. Titled Train, the project will ultimately cost $25 million, but it is currently on hold due to the worldwide crash of the capitalist system.

 Image: Mark Vallen, preliminary sketch for Alleviated Masses, 2012 ©
Preliminary sketch for Alleviated Masses, Mark Vallen 2012 ©

No doubt the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression has prevented Michael Govan from going forward with his Train project, so in the face of widespread unemployment and economic collapse Govan has wisely chosen to persevere with the less costly $10 million boulder.

All the same, perhaps the gargantuan un-carved rock is still a bit steeply-priced given the shaky economic situation; I humbly suggest that LACMA and Mr. Govan seriously consider purchasing my slightly scaled-down, easy on the pocket, land art installation – Alleviated Masses.

I enthusiastically await Mr. Govan’s inquiries, and sincerely hope my 100-ton boulder will soon have a new home at LACMA.

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