Kenley and I visited L.A.’s newest rock attraction a few weeks after it debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
There has been much anticipation — including excitement and criticism — about Michael Heizer’s 340-ton “Levitated Mass” sculpture. To some, the permanent exhibit is a grand piece of art, a study in perspective, a transformative journey and Los Angeles’ newest icon.
To others, it’s a big rock and a waste of money.
Kenley and I wanted to see it for ourselves. But first, we needed food. So we went to Milk on Beverly Boulevard, which is a few blocks away from LACMA. Be sure you go to Milk with an empty stomach. The cafe/ice cream shop/bakery serves pressed sandwiches and salads, but the real reason to visit is the dessert.
Kenley and I had already tried the restaurant’s Milk bars, which are served at Plan Check in West L.A., so we wanted to try something different. We couldn’t make up our minds, so we ordered a scoop of sweet corn ice cream, a slice of blue velvet cake and a chocolate chip cookie. You could see the corn kernels in the ice cream, which tasted light and refreshing. The blue velvet was three layers of blueberry chiffon cake, with fresh blueberries and white-chocolate-cream-cheese frosting.
After that, we definitely needed a walk around the grounds of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is free to L.A. County residents after 3 p.m. on weekdays (except for Wednesdays, when it’s closed).
The large boulder that is the center of the “Levitated Mass” installation arrived in Los Angeles in March. “Rock parties” were held along the 107-mile, 11-day route from a quarry in Riverside County, Calif., to its new home on Museum Row. The rock star opened to the public in late June.
The boulder sits balanced above a 456-foot-long open tunnel that you can walk down until you are underneath the large mass. Once you pass beneath the boulder, you slowly “re-emerge” into modern civilization, and you can once again see the Los Angeles skyline. The rock itself isn’t too terribly impressive, and there’s not much of an illusion of it levitating. Still, you definitely feel like you’ve taken some sort of journey as you walk under the boulder. What does it mean? It’s up to your own interpretation, but it’s worth exploring and contemplating.
The artist himself doesn’t offer much insight into what it’s supposed to mean.
The LACMA website offers this: “Taken whole, Levitated Mass speaks to the expanse of art history, from ancient traditions of creating artworks from megalithic stone, to modern forms of abstract geometries and cutting-edge feats of engineering.”
And a Los Angeles’ Times article offers the most context for the piece and says that Heizer intends for “Leviated Mass” to be around for 3,500 years. The boulder is about 150 million years old, according to the article. A column by the LA Times art critic after “Levitated Mass” debuted suggests that the mass being levitated isn’t necessarily the boulder.
Suppose that the mass being elevated isn’t the hunk of granite at all but is instead a hunk of you. And, in the aggregate, us. Suppose we are the mass being levitated.
Levitation is a pretty obvious metaphor for a mysterious elevation of heart and mind from life’s rote habits, a lift that can characterize the profound experience of a great work of art. Whether or not Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” achieves that status is up to you, as it is to anyone who enters its space.
Heizer’s “Actual Size” exhibit inside the Broad Contemporary Art building also provides some context for “Levitated Mass” and runs through Oct. 28 (it hadn’t opened yet when we were there).
Once inside the Broad Contemporary Art building, we discovered “Metropolis II,” a kinetic microcosm of a bustling city. More than 1,000 toy cars speed through the sculpture so that every hour the equivalent of 100,000 cars navigate the city of plastic and steel, according to the LACMA website.
“The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city,” says the artist, Chris Burden, who also created the “Urban Light” sculpture in front of the museum.
It’s a little less stressful when you’re not in the driver’s seat.
We also stopped by the “James Bond” exhibit, featuring memorable opening credits from several Bond films in honor of this year’s 50th anniversary. (The exhibit closed in September.)
Kenley got lost in a hands-on kids exhibit.
It was a Friday night, so we decided to have a happy-hour drink at Stark Bar at the LACMA.
The Stark Bar is named after Ray Stark, a late patron and film producer. His films include “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Steel Magnolias,” and there also are cocktail creations named after his movies. (The “Steel Magnolia,” for example, is Champagne with rum, strawberries and basil.)
It’s a great place to people-watch and have a drink, especially on Friday nights, when Stark Bar has a free live jazz show beginning at 6 p.m. We heard saxophonist Rickey Woodard, who was a member of the Ray Charles Band and has played with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
Worth noting is that on Fridays, the Stark Bar has a two-drink minimum. But the drinks are worth it. I ordered a “Blacklisted,” which was whiskey, blackberries, honey and lemon juice.
Kenley and I plan to go back to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art soon. Upcoming exhibits include Robert Mapplethorpe (opening Oct. 21), Stanley Kubrick (opening Nov. 1) and Caravaggio (opening Nov. 11)