"Levitated Mass" is the name of a gigantic art undertaking at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that couldn't be completed without the aid of three semi trucks, a trailer with 200 wheels, and the cooperation of four counties and 22 cities. Before the centerpiece of the project -- a 340-ton granite boulder -- could be installed, it had to be transported more than 100 miles into one of the busiest cities in the world.

Rock Art

A giant boulder may not sound like your average art supply, but "Earth art" specialist Michael Heizer doesn't shy away from size. This new project, "Levitated Mass," is by no means small, but he also has a project that's more than a mile long and a quarter mile wide. Located in rural southeastern Nevada, "City" has been under construction since 1970. "Levitated Mass" has been in the planning stages for even longer, with the idea first conceived in 1968. Heizer first attempted the project in 1969 with a 120-ton boulder, which broke one of the two cranes trying to set it in place. In 2007, Heizer was working at a quarry in Riverside County, California, when the 340-ton megalith that will become "Levitated Mass" was unearthed after a detonation.The (Very) Big Rig

A piece of earth this size cannot just be loaded onto a flatbed medium-duty truck, or even on the bed of a single semi. To transport the megalith, Emmert International had to load it with straps, chains, and anchors supported by parallel beams that look like the giant arches of a two-lane bridge. To move the trailer, one Kenworth semi truck was used to pull, with two more Kenworths to push. Each truck has a gigantic diesel engine with about twice the displacement of a 1-ton civilian truck. Those powerplants are capable of putting out twice as much torque, too, with impressive numbers that range from just over 1000 lb-ft up to nearly 2000 lb-ft of twist. That power wouldn't be needed for speed, though, since the three trucks would be teaming up for a slow crawl with a transporter about 32 feet wide and 260 feet long.

Midnight Marauder

The rock was moved only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to minimize the effects on the notorious traffic that snarls Los Angeles streets on a daily basis. That didn't stop it from stealing the hearts of Angelenos who followed the boulder along its trip. The gigantic mover crept along at just 4-8 mph during 11 nights in a path that avoided freeways, ramps, and streets that could not bear its weight or width. This included stops for planned and unplanned obstacles, including large palm trees that had to be moved temporarily, and a bunch of illegally parked vehicles that blocked the mover on the last leg of its voyage. The Los Angeles Times reports some people among the crowd of onlookers cheered when the first vehicle was towed from Wilshire Boulevard, where LACMA is located.

The boulder's temporary resting place is a lot with a partially constructed observation trench that cannot be completed until the boulder has been put into position. When finished, the slot will be 456 feet long, 15 feet wide, with 4-foot-thick walls, and 15 feet deep directly under the megalith so viewers can walk underneath the boulder and feel as though the mass is hovering over them.

Like the rest of this project, nothing was simple. The location of the display area is very close to La Brea Tar Pits, so what's under the surface of the earth had to be taken into account. The artist's wishes to have the boulder tilted at a specific angle presented seismic challenges to the construction consulting company, Buro Happold. They used 3-D laser scanning of the megalith to make sure it won't move in the event of an earthquake, while keeping a safety anchor system out of sight for artistic purposes.

See It for Yourself

As of press time, LACMA's plans were to display "Levitated Mass" to the public by the end of spring or the beginning of summer. By that time, the lot surrounding the display slot will be covered with a naturally occurring gravel called compressed decomposed granite. The museum is closed on Wednesdays, and tickets are available online at www.lacma.org.


Megalith and Mover Specifications
Boulder
Weight 340 tons
Height 21.5 ft
Width 21.5 ft
Slot length 456 ft
Slot depth 15 ft
Slot interior width 15 ft
Slot wall thickness 4 ft
Truck and Trailer
Truck manufacturer Kenworth
Trucks used 1 tow and 2 push trucks
Approximate horsepower 300-500 hp per truck
Approximate torque 1000-1900 lb-ft per truck
Length 260 ft (est)
Width 32 ft
Number of wheels 200
Average speed during move 6 mph
Max speed during move 8 mph
Length of transport 105 miles (est)
Time required for transport 11 nights (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.)


SOURCES

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
323/857-6000
www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/levitated-mass

Hanjin Shipping
www.www.hanjin.com

Emmert International
800/936-6378
www.emmertintl.com

Matt Construction
562/903-2277
www.mattconstruction.com

Buro Happold
310/945-4800
www.burohappold.com