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Levitated Mass and Urban Light at LACMA

“They are works of art that can be considered works of art but don’t have to be in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.”

-Michael Heizer


Michael Heizer’s quote could be ArtWalk’s slogan. As much as we love visiting museums, we are just as interested in art found in public spaces. But what about art that is public, but museum-adjacent?

Some museum buildings are art in themselves – think of the Guggenheim’s curves. Others don’t rest on their architectural laurels and accessorize with examples of art found within their walls. The New Museum’s rotating outdoors sculpture installations use the building as a canvas. Currently, ‘Ghost Ship’ is hanging above the Bowery, with previous showcases being Ugo Rondinone’s ‘Hell, Yes!’ sign and Isa Genzken’s ‘Rose II’.

On a visit to LA this week, I got to see how the West Coast does it. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is a sprawling complex with many spaces accessible without a museum ticket. The space is flanked by two relatively recent additions to the collection, but both works have already achieved iconic status.


At the front, Chris Burden’s ‘Urban Light’ (2008) is a grid of antique lampposts the artist collected from across the city and rearranged as a maze. In the back, Michael Heizer’s ‘Levitated Mass’ has just begun its run, which, according to the artist, should last 3,500 years.

‘Levitated Mass’ has caused a bit of controversy during its installation, mostly due to the great expense that was involved in moving the 340 ton boulder from its original location, even though it was only 60 miles away from the LACMA campus. The cost of the project is estimated at around 10 Million and the 11 night journey was followed with great interest by locals, who even organized block parties to welcome the truck carrying the boulder.

Though the two sculptures differ considerably, both have redefined the original objects by rearranging them in a new space and in an unusual formation. The grouped-together lanterns, the floating rock – especially due to their placement outside of museum walls, make their audience aware of the objects’ original purpose in public space.

‘Levitated Mass’ is now getting a second hoorah through a documentary about its lengthy, controversial creation. The movie will start screening in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center from November 14th.


If you want to see more or Chris Burden’s work, The New Museum is currently exhibiting a retrospective of the artist’s work.