The Rock is a wrap—for now

March 10, 2012 

After its 4:30 a.m arrival, The Rock was parked for a photo-op in front of Chris Burden's iconic "Urban Light."

As crowds cheered and a loudspeaker blared Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” the Rock rolled into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art just before dawn on Saturday morning, riding down Wilshire Boulevard in its massive red transport like a 340-ton beauty in the Rose Parade.

“Fantastic,” said LACMA Director Michael Govan, unable to stop smiling as the focal point of “Levitated Mass,” the museum’s latest permanent installation, paused in front of the museum.

“Yahoo!” applauded Govan’s 7-year-old daughter, who was dressed in a pink coat and hoisted high on his shoulders.

LACMA Director Michael Govan and his 7-year-old daughter

“Magnificent!” breathed Alexandra Thum, a West Hollywood product designer who had worked her way through the crowd to get a curbside view. “It’s just so great to be here and see all the community together.” Around them, several hundred onlookers cried “Bravo! Bravo!” under the antique street lamps of another iconic LACMA masterpiece, Chris Burden’s “Urban Light.”

The reception capped an 11-day trip across 22 cities and four counties for the boulder, a hunk of granite the size of a 2-story teardrop that, in the weeks ahead, will be affixed atop a concrete channel, creating the illusion that it is levitating overhead. The work by Nevada earth artist Michael Heizer is scheduled to open in spring or early summer. (The famously reclusive artist was not on hand Saturday, but is expected to be in Los Angeles for the piece’s assembly.)

Although The Rock, as it came to be known, is only one component in the installation, it instantly became a media event itself because of the novelty and engineering involved in its move from its Jurupa Valley quarry in Riverside County.

Progressing at a stately 5 miles per hour and parked by day to minimize traffic disruptions, it inspired a marriage proposal in Glen Avon and a citywide block party in Long Beach, gawker’s block in Diamond Bar and pajama-clad sightseers near Expositon Park. In Rowland Heights, an accountant came home to discover it outside his bedroom window. So many people posed next to it for photos that, perhaps inevitably, it became an Internet meme for a digital moment.

By bike, car and foot, onlookers flocked to see the boulder's slow-cruise on Wilshire.

While many thrilled at the spectacle, some decried its estimated $10-million expense, which has been covered entirely by private donors. “I think they should have spent $10 million on art programs instead of this rock,” said Patrick Taylor, a security guard and father of two who lives near Exposition Park.

Overall, however, museum officials were pleasantly surprised at the public reaction, which included a wave of fresh awareness for LACMA.

“When this started, I thought it would be much more controversial,” said Govan. “You know, ‘Is it art? Is it not art?’ But people mostly have just been fascinated and appreciative. And so many have learned about the museum from this experience.”

On Friday night—or, more accurately, Saturday morning—that appreciation was out in full, only-in-L.A. glory as thousands pulled all-nighters for the last leg of The Rock’s journey, up Western Avenue and along Wilshire Boulevard’s famed Miracle Mile.

Not even The Rock could get past this illegally parked car.

Onlookers on foot and on bicycle snapped photos and videos and narrated the boulder’s slow-speed progress on hundreds of cell phones. Dogs barked. Tourists jumped out of buses and cabs to investigate the commotion.

A tall man dressed as Jesus and a shorter person dressed as a unicorn posed for pictures. Comedians worked the crowd. (“Have you seen my dog? It’s a ROCK-weiler!”) Further back in the crowd, actress Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue,” “Desperate Housewives”) kept a low profile with her physician husband.

When the boulder slowed to make the painstaking turn in front of the Wiltern Theatre, a man waving an American flag ran out into the intersection, whooping. When the transporter was forced to stop, waiting for a tow-truck to remove a Dodge illegally parked in front of a karaoke bar on Wilshire, a dazed-looking young woman leaped into the street and either fell or tried to crawl underneath it. Shaken crewmembers escorted her back to the sidewalk and issued her a stern warning.

Outside LACMA, rock-inspired art?

But for the most part, the mood was festive and communal, and the boulder’s movers—many of whom had walked alongside the megalith for most of the 105-mile route—were ready to celebrate by 4:30 a.m., when the procession paused in front of “Urban Light” for its final paparazzi moment.

“I got blisters on three of my toes,” laughed crewman Joe Schofield of Emmert International, who said on Saturday that he had been on foot, watching the rock, for more than 75 miles of the journey. Separate work crews ran ahead at each stop to clear the path of utility lines and landscaping. Workers from Time Warner Cable said they had moved lines in some 90 locations.

“Everybody has been clapping and cheering and connecting,” said Emmert General Manager Mark Albrecht, noting that, aside from that one incident with the young woman and a couple of mauled palm trees, the delivery was almost miraculously free of hitches. Around him, hard-hatted workers humbly ducked their heads as Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge thanked them.

Meanwhile, a crush of spectators rushed to touch the shrink-wrapped megalith with their fingertips until the transporter was put into gear again for the last yards of its journey, finally disappearing behind a gate on Fairfax Avenue and Sixth Street at 5:03 a.m.

After a 105-mile journey, the boulder entered LACMA's grounds at 5:03 a.m. for its transformation into "Levitated Mass."

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