Last November I wrote about the politicization of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. At that time it was mainly Tea Partiers and libertarians who were miffed. They felt that paying $10 million to move a 340-ton boulder was the epitome of nutty liberalism. OK, no tax dollars were spent… it was the principle of the thing. Now that the boulder is on the road, it’s incurring a liberal backlash, too. Pomona College environmental professor Char Miller, writing on KCET’s blog, asks,
“What’s the going price for the prostitution of nature? In the fall of 2011, the art world discovered that $10 million would do the trick.”
Miller’s concern isn’t money so much as machismo. For Miller “the most troubling thing” about Levitated Mass is “an imperial reach, a chest-thumping sense of conquest: Nature, from which this imposing rock has been ripped, is manipulable, acted upon.”
This echoes a strain of critical thought that finds Land Art to be Street Photography writ large, an artist’s louche power game with that powerless shopping bag lady, Mother Earth. One can follow that argument, to a degree, with Double Negative or Spiral Jetty. But the Levitated Mass boulder came out of a quarry supplying granite for countertops. Tons of that granite are shipped to IKEAs everywhere. Miller concedes that a working quarry is “hardly a pristine landscape.” The victim of Levitated Mass, he seems to say, is… the rock itself?
“…its ultimate presentation at LACMA – trussed up, harnessed – only reinforces its decontextualized state, its uprootedness. With its geological referents obliterated, its integrity gone, it has become a commodity whose sculptural value is that which Heizer grants it: Now a mass; no longer a rock.”