Review of “Levitated Mass”: Between a Rock and an Art Piece

Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer. Photo by m-bot/Flickr. Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer. Photo by m-bot/Flickr.

Levitated Mass follows the creation of a monumental art piece by renowned land and/or earth artist Michael Heizer. Although the film starts off as being a rather dry account of a purposed art project, it gradually morphs into a captivating exploration of how people view art and its role in society.

Michael Heizer is a contemporary artist whose previous exhibits include “Double Negative”, “Adjacent, Against, Upon”, “This Equals That”, and “North, East, South, West”. Despite the fact that Levitated Mass centers on the construction of Heizer’s newest work, the artist actually plays a very small role in the documentary. The real star of the film is the 340 ton granite boulder which serves as the centerpiece for the artwork. The documentary also stresses the contributions of an extensive army of workers including architects, truck drivers, transportation assistants, engineers, construction workers, museum officials, as well as various government administrators whose laborious efforts made the construction of the Levitated Mass project possible.

The documentary, directed by Doug Pray, begins with the discovery of a gigantic boulder unearthed at a California quarry. The rock is brought to the attention of officials at the prestigious Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where it is determined that its dimensions are a perfect fit for Heizer’s proposed work. The boulder then begins to take on a life of its own as the film chronicles the logistical nightmare and bureaucratic red tape involved in transporting the rock from a quarry in Riverside, California to the grounds of the LACMA.

The turning point in Levitated Mass occurs when the narrative shifts from the planning stages to the actual process of transporting the monumentous rock. Once the journey is underway, the documentary focuses on the rock and how it assumes its own personality. The true power of the film lies in the fact that this inanimate object has the ability to engage, inspire, and provoke everyone it comes into contact with.

In order to reach its final destination, the rock must embark on an arduous 105 mile trek across southern California through 22 cities. The rock travels by way of a specially constructed 206 wheeled trailer which is the length of a football field. In order to avoid major traffic snarl ups, the journey takes place over ten nights with the huge tractor trailer which hauls the rock creeping along at speeds of two to ten miles per hour.

"Levitated Mass" poster.

“Levitated Mass” poster.

The highlight of Levitated Mass is how the process of transporting the enormous boulder affects all those who come into contact with it. Local citizens gather to watch the impressive convoy, cheer, take pictures, and express their personal feelings regarding the merits of this unusual project. The reactions of the spectators vary greatly; with some seeing the endeavor to be nothing more than a colossal waste of money and resources, others speculate that it may indeed be a top secret military project; still others attach religious meaning to the rock, while others elevate it to the status of celebrity. At one point in the journey the rock inspires one community to hold a street fair based around the boulder’s voyage through their town. The rock’s trek isn’t just a trip from point A to point B. Instead the complex endeavor takes on a life of its own bringing together citizens eager to witness this unique one-of-a-kind event. The rock is elevated from simply being part of an artwork to something that inspires people to think about the meaning and merits of artistic expression.

Levitated Mass allows viewers to become invested in the process of artistic creation. The actual unveiling of the finished piece is almost anticlimactic compared to the efforts involved in transporting the boulder to the museum. The documentary is entertaining and inspiring and viewers will be pleased that the DVD includes several extra features that provide additional information on various aspects of the film.

About C.L. Illsley

I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia but have called Montreal home since 1999. I received degrees from Mount Saint Vincent University & Concordia University. I enjoy writing, watching movies, & most of all spending time with my 4 cats. Contact: Facebook | Twitter | More Posts