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What Would Catherine the Great Say?

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After months of delay and then the media blitz surrounding its excruciatingly slow journey, the Rock has at last arrived. If everything goes its way, it will be here forever and ever. I am talking, as you have already probably guessed, about Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass that finally took pride of place at LACMA, on the lawn next to the Resnick Pavilion.

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I rushed to see it the day after returning from my trip to France. It was late afternoon and the museum campus was more crowded than usual. I was told that a few days earlier, at the official opening, the place was totally mobbed. Now, several days later, it was still buzzing with excitement. Cameras were flashing, people were smiling, kids were running up and down -- it was a party time.

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A few months ago I had the chance to walk through the tunnel dug to host this gigantic rock. Even at the absence of the rock, the tunnel, with its imposing negative space, already had the commanding presence of a minimalist sculpture. I was very curious to see how these two larger than life components of Michael Heizer's imagination would ultimately respond to each other.

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The way I finally experienced it, both rock and tunnel have equal star presence and their dialogue is the major attraction of this piece. The only disappointment is the visibility of the clunky steel braces that anchor the rock to the tunnel walls. Obviously the braces are necessary to prevent the rock from shifting in the case of an earthquake, but couldn't they have found another way to hold it up and make the engineering invisible? Isn't the whole point of Levitating Mass to create the illusion of a rock floating in space? I want to be dazzled by Michael Heizer's magic trick, and though I find the piece powerful, by revealing these metal braces the artist somewhat breaks the magic spell.

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Staring at this rock I think about its European cousin, another huge boulder, which has graced one of the central squares of St Petersburg since the time of Catherine the Great. The Empress commissioned this famous monument to her predecessor Peter the Great. The Bronze Horseman rides a stone wave, carved from a massive piece of granite. I am pretty sure that Michael Heizer was not necessarily concerned with echoing this famous Russian monument while working on Levitated Mass, but considering that St. Petersburg and Los Angeles are sister cities, I find this artistic conversation that crosses the span of two centuries to be rather intriguing.

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And speaking of intriguing and titillating: Be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen lotion while attending the first Venice Beach Biennial this weekend, July 13 - 15. This unconventional project with its rather tongue-in-cheek reference to the "real" Venice Biennale, was conceived by Ali Subotnick, curator for the Hammer Museum. Every day from 11 a.m. until sunset, 40 to 50 selected artists will collaborate with boardwalk artists to create new, often site-specific works and performances. A map and more information are available on the Made in LA website.

Banner image: Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass on opening day, June 24, 2012 at LACMA

Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.