Working largely outside the confines of gallery and museum, Michael Heizer has redefined sculpture in terms of size, mass, gesture, and process. A pioneer of Land Art, he is renowned for awe-inspiring sculptures and earthworks made with earth-moving equipment, which he began creating in the American West in 1967.
Michael Heizer was born in Berkeley, California, in 1944, the son of the distinguished University of California, Berkeley archaeologist, Dr. Robert Heizer. Michael spent a year in high school, in France. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute (1963–64) and moved to New York City (1966), where he found a loft on Mercer Street in SoHo and began producing conventional, small-scale paintings and sculptures.
In the late 1960s, Heizer left New York City for the deserts of California and Nevada, where he began to produce large-scale works that could not fit into a museum setting, except perhaps in photographs.
Heizer’s latest project “Levitated Mass” (2012) was for LACMA. He tried to build it in 1969 with a smaller boulder, but the crane attempting to lift it snapped. It was not until 2005 that he discovered an appropriate boulder, when a routine blast at Stone Valley Quarry in Riverside County, California, produced the piece he had imagined, and the project started coming together. LACMA’s director Michael Govan first visited the site in 1994 as director of Dia:Beacon. Since then, Govan has become Heizer’s greatest ally in the art world, raising $10 million from private donors to realize Levitated Mass and serving as a spokesman for the artist. It took eleven nights, from February 28 to March 10, 2012, to move the 340-ton rock from Jurupa Valley to the museum. The granite boulder (21.5 feet wide and 21.5 feet high) is installed atop a 456-foot-long trench, which allows people to walk under it. The long channel, descending to a depth of 15 feet, is encircled by a lozenge-shaped line of weathering steel embedded in the earth and rusting to a velvety brown. The installation is situated in a field of polished concrete slices, set at a slight angle between the Resnick Pavilion and Sixth Street. Heizer opened the exhibit on June 24, 2012. A documentary about the installation process has been made by the filmmaker Doug Pray.