The Madeleine Brand Show for March 9, 2012

What’s behind the $10 million price tag for LACMA’s rock sculpture?

The LACMA Rock Rolls

Grant Slater/KPCC

A 340-ton boulder headed toward LACMA made an overnight stop in Long Beach where a horde of fans greeted it.

It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s almost at its new home. For the last 10 nights the LA County Museum of Art’s 340-ton boulder has traveled through Southern California at a maximum speed of around five miles an hour.

It started at a quarry in Riverside and early Saturday morning it reaches the lawn at LACMA. The giant boulder is part of an installation by artist Michael Heizer called "Levitated Mass." The estimated cost for the project is 10 million dollars.

The boulder itself was sold to LACMA for around $70,000 and it has been creeping through Southern California at night on a football field-sized transport valued around 5 million dollars.

The trailer holding the massive rock is two stories tall and three freeway lanes wide. And as one would expect, it consumes enormous quantities of gasoline. Averaging 15 gallons per mile, the rig can burn through 150 gallons of gas each night.

But gas isn't even the most expensive part of the process. Terry Emmert, president of the company tasked with moving the rock, says the bulk of the expense comes from paying the hundred or so people needed to escort the caravan.

“It’s tens of thousands of dollars a night for these crews to be out here removing signals, utility lines and cables. And then as soon as we pass by they have to put them back up.”

The hefty bill is paid for by the LA County Museum of Art. But spokesperson Miranda Carroll says even though they get some tax-payer money, none of that went to the boulder. “Nope. Not a dime. Everything is paid for by private donors.”

She says bringing artist Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass to life is a big investment up front. But she says if it’s a success, it will garner attention from across the art world and could even become an LA icon like the Hollywood sign.

The boulder arrives at LACMA tomorrow around four in the morning. But the finished installation won’t open until the summer.

Once the installation is open, The museum won’t charge to see the outdoor sculpture – but LACMA’s Miranda Carroll says they might create a book to sell that tells the tale of the boulder’s epic journey.


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