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Cultural Overload

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more examples of culture than an ear, nose and throat specialist.

First we went to Los Angeles to see “Levitated Mass” the largest thing ever moved by man (second largest if you count Mitt Romney’s offshore accounts).

Levitated Mass is a work of art, according to people who obviously know a lot more about art than I do. Basically it’s a great big rock, sitting on top of a pathway, which they call a slot, that slowly descends below the rock and ascends back out the other side, so that you can walk under the thing, admire it’s bottom, and say clever things to each other like:

“Long time no see. Where you been living under a rock?”

And: “Look, I just went from Los Angeles to Boulder and back in five minutes!”

Apparently, the artist, Michael Heizer, got the idea for his creation in 1969. I, too, had a lot of interesting thoughts in the late 60s, but I’ve pretty much forgotten most of them by now, not counting the occasional flashback.

            Heizer held onto his big thought, though, until he finally discovered an appropriate boulder decades later in 2007 in Riverside County, California. Then it took him five years to figure out how to move the 340-ton granite behemoth and how to get someone to pay for it. In 1969, he probably could have found a bunch of guys with VW vans willing to try it.

“Far out, man. I was levitating myself just last night.”

“How trippy, me, too.”

“I say group transcendental meditation, man.”


But in 2012, things are more complicated and it took 11 days to move the thing 105 miles to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a massive trailer that could only move 5 miles per hour through a bunch of cities and counties that all required large-rock-moving permits.

“Megalith relocation? You’re gonna need, like, Forms Nineteen A though Eighty-Seven F... Is that a picture of it? Hmm. You know, I may have meditated at that thing once...”

Anyway, it’s not just the rock or the “slot” but the creative use of negative space that makes it worth the ten million bucks it costs to create it. A gift of rich art patrons that decided this was more important than offshore banking.

We also saw artist Chris Burden's “Metropolis II,” which is billed as “an intense kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, frenetic modern city.” It has something like 18 roadways, several sets of train tracks, and a six-lane freeway, where cars speed along at 240 “scale miles per hour,” just like in Los Angeles, except on their freeways it’s closer to four miles per hour.

According to the artist, "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st century city."

Which ironically is a lot like Los Angeles itself. Might have made more sense to put it somewhere like sleepy little Los Olivos. Course, Burden would have had to put in some antiques shops, galleries, wineries, and a bunch of those signs that still say: “As featured in the movie Sideways.”

After we watched Metropolis II and got stressed out we drove to the Getty Center to see “The Magic of Line” by artist Gustav Klimt.

“These are some of his very first sketches.”

“No kidding. Do you thing he’d want people seeing these? I’m betting people would not laugh if they saw the early drafts of my column.”

“Or even later drafts.”

“Exactly. Wait what?”

They also have an incredible permanent collection at the Getty, including some well-known impressionists. I’ve always enjoyed impressionists.

“Go ahead punk, make my day.”


“That’s my impression of Dirty Harry. You know, Clint Eastwood?”

“That must be one of those early draft jokes you were telling me about.”

And just this weekend we went to the Getty Villa, J Paul’s other priceless art collection in Malibu, which mainly consists of huge naked statues and really old pottery that apparently Roman and Greek wives were smart enough not to let their husbands handle. It’s a bit creepy that a lot of the statues have eyeballs painted on.

“Look that one’s eyes follow me wherever I go.”

“That’s because she’s one of the museum guards.”

The Getty Villa was modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. So if it doesn’t match exactly – who’s going to know? There are many unique features in every nook and cranny of the villa. I know this because we went on the longest 40-minute docent-led tour I’ve ever been on.

“We’ll just skip that room. That’s the children’s interactive room. Now, over here...”


Turns out they know that some kids get bored looking at pottery and would rather just scribble all over it, so they have some vases made so kids can do just that.

“Say pass that marker would ya buddy?”

“Mom, some man is taking up all the table space.”

I tried several intricate designs before I finally created a piece that I was happy with.

“What the heck are you doing? The docent was all nervous because she lost one of her group.”

“Well if you must know I’ve been making this.” I held up my prize. “Someday this will be dug up and housed in a museum of the future. They’ll probably want to make a naked statue of me to go with it.”

“That’ll make a dent in the world’s supply of marble.”

Ernie, coming to a museum near you soon. Wow, culture can be cool.