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In Los Angeles, a Rock for All Ages

Published: March 10, 2012 | 5:47 pm
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LOS ANGELES — It was 4:35 a.m. on Saturday when the block-long transporter carrying a 340-ton, 21-foot-high boulder wrapped in white plastic pulled in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

More than 1,000 people, kept on the sidewalk by a squadron of police officers, responded with applause and a burst of camera flashes.

But as the 196-wheel transporter idled there, under huge spotlights befitting a city known for its star-gazing, the crowd poured off the sidewalk and toward the boulder that will soon be the latest addition to the museum’s art collection. They touched the boulder, marveled at its size, posed for photographs and congratulated the workers who had overseen the complicated task of transporting a rock-turned-art from a quarry 60 miles away.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s like the Pyramids,” said Sandy Martin, a retired television producer, who had waited nearly three hours for this moment on this warm night drenched in moonlight. “We’ll never see this again in our lifetimes. I cried when I first saw it.”

It took seven months longer than originally planned and followed a circuitous route that brought it through four counties and 22 cities. The journey lasted 11 days — the convoy traveled only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — and drew on the services of hundreds of drivers, police officers, utility workers and construction workers. Its approach was heralded by a dazzling flash of red, blue and yellow lights, and crews that leapfrogged ahead to lift power lines and turn aside traffic lights.

But, finally, before the first light of the morning, the rock that will be known as “Levitated Mass” came down Wilshire Boulevard — people running alongside as if this were the bulls of Pamplona — before making its last two elongated turns and coming rest in an open lot behind the museum. Within the next month, the work, by Michael Heizer, a California sculptor, will be placed over a cut trench and then opened to the public.

Tom LaBonge, the ubiquitous Los Angeles City Council member, turned to the museum director, Michael Govan, and patted him on the arm. “Good job,” he said.

Mr. LaBonge said the installation was worth the considerable effort and expense that have raised some eyebrows at a time of such austerity. “Look around you, look how this brings out people,” he said. “This will be a big magnet here at L.A.C.M.A.”

The scene on Miracle Mile was reminiscent of the excited and diverse crowd that has come out at night to watch the convoy as it zigged and zagged through the region. There were cameras, baby strollers, folding chairs, politicians and other people of every race and economic class. The was also a surfeit of rock puns: Someone was even playing “We Will Rock You” as the truck passed the La Brea Tar Pits.

In Long Beach the other night, people lined the streets and waited for hours to be rewarded by what Alexis Dragony praised as the “extraordinary and flawless maneuver of the rock” making a turn. “We cheered as it negotiated the corner — just flawless,” she said. “It was truly performance art.”

Los Angeles is not a particularly late-night city, and people who were there at 4:30 in the morning either found a new use for the disco naps of their use or stayed up all night. Mr. LaBonge said he set his alarm clock for 2:30 and woke up with a start, fearful that he had missed the moment. He had not.

Jeff Miller, 32, to a Guns N Roses show at the Hollywood Palladium that lasted, he reported, until close to 3 a.m. At that point, he figured he would just make a night of it and headed over to museum.

More than a few people talked about multiple excursions to go see the boulder which became easier as museum officials, constantly adjusting to changing regulations and bureaucracies, shifted and elongated the route. By the end, the convey traveled on 100 miles of road to cover 60 miles of distance, to accommodate a route with roads that were wide enough and strong enough to carry this kind of load.

And in any event, this did not appear to routines of people who are accustomed to late nights. “Hey, let’s go get some waffles, man,” one man said after his own close-up inspection of the boulder.

Not that there were no problems. At least two palm trees had to be cut down at the last minute because they were preventing the truck from turning. Mr. Govan promised that they would be replaced with “fast-growing” Washingtonia palms. And the final leg of the journey was held up a bit because of drivers who parked on Wilshire Boulevard. Unfortunately for them, they were towed.

But none of this distracted from the weird awe of the early morning spectacle. “There must be 1,000 people here,” said Alex Rose, 32, who drove over from Venice. “I’ve been really fixated by this, that something like this can get so many people out here.”

Mr. Miller, who stayed up all night, said he had rarely witnessed events like this here. “I grew up in L.A.,” he said. “I love it when a moment like this comes along that brings us together. When you get an event like this in L.A., it can make this city seem small. And that’s really cool.”



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