How to Move a Half-Million-Pound Monolith Across Los Angeles

Michael Heizer's latest installation requires moving a boulder 100 miles across L.A.

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In a matter speaking, Michael Heizer is the ultimate American artist. He likes to go big, and he doesn't care how much it costs. Heizer's latest installation, his first major work in nearly thirty years, involves suspending a giant boulder atop a 456-foot-long, steel reinforced trough carved into the earth in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It's called Levitated Mass. The trickiest part isn't digging the trench or building the infrastructure, however. It's moving the rock, which is the size of a two-story building and weighs over a million pounds with its transport system. "At 340 tons, the boulder is one of the largest monoliths moved since ancient times," LACMA declares on their website.

Modern day Los Angeles is no Giza. In the absence of thousands of slaves to roll the stone across the desert to the site of Heizer's monument are oodles of obstacles, from power lines to overpasses, and the logistical challenge of the century. So far, the boulder has been sitting in a quarry for six years as Heizer, LACMA and a Portland-based moving company have assembled a complex plan to move The Rock--the movers nicknamed it--along 100 miles of roads from Riverside County to the museum. This week, they finalized a route, and the move is scheduled to take place on October 25. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who says the "slow-speed odyssey, on the bed of a special truck, is expected to be almost as epic as the artwork," explains the plan on his official blog:

Its weight, combined with its transport system, will total 1,210,300 pounds, says Emmert’s director of operations, Mark Albrecht. And because it is not just a boulder but part of an artwork, it must arrive at LACMA intact--no chips, no scratches. …

Albrecht says preventing the rock from taking out traffic signals and low-hanging wires has been a major undertaking. He and his crews have had to coordinate with nearly 100 utilities in multiple jurisdictions to lift power lines, remove trees and get other obstacles out of The Rock's path as it moves.

Yaroslavsky explains that the rock will be transported on a sling with a "special 2-truck contraption, whose segmented design has been compared to a caterpillar." The hardest part of planning, he says, is actually figuring out where to park the damn thing.

So for all but one break (a gravel lot in Pomona that will be its first rest stop), The Rock must be parked somewhere wide, flat, accessible to vehicles, easy to guard and hard to get to for humans. In other words, Albrecht says, The Rock has to park in the middle of the road.

Meanwhile, the engineers at LACMA are digging out The Rock's final resting place, and that's proved to be its own challenge. Heizer, by the way, is famous for digging big holes, which has been dubbed by art critics as "negative" sculpture. The basic idea of Levitated Mass is not dissimilar to the thinking behind Double Negative, a trench larger than the Empire State Building that Heizer carved into the Nevada desert in 1969. However, the idea of levitating the 340-pound rock means that he'll need to do more than blast a tunnel through the ground. LACMA's project manager John Bowsher explains the construction project:

As for The Rock itself, it actually looks less intimidating than you might think. LACMA director Michael Govan gives a tour at the quarry:

Including transport, the entire project is expected to cost between $5 and $10 million. One question we've not seen addressed though: What happens to Levitated Mass when the next big earthquake inevitably hits LA?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.