L.A.'s very artsy rock show

The 20-foot tall, 340-ton boulder that's been making its way through L.A. to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a new installation by artist Michael Heizer. It's one very pricey trip.

Kai Ryssdal: I don't want to make what's going on in the rest of the economy feel slighted -- I mean the Greek debt crisis, Super Tuesday, and I dunno, the new iPad, are certainly worthy topics.

Here in Los Angeles, though, we've been obsessing over something else: A rock. A very big rock -- 20-feet tall, 340 tons. Boulder, I guess, is a better nomenclature. It's been making its way through Los Angeles to the County Museum of Art -- very, very slowly -- for a new installation by the artist Michael Heizer. That's right, it's a $10 million rock show.

From KPCC in Pasadena, Sanden Totten reports.


Sanden Totten: Angelenos haven't been this riveted by a slow moving vehicle since O.J.'s White Bronco crawled down the 405 freeway. The boulder is traveling 100 miles over 11 days. The rock rolls all night -- and parties every day. That's what happened when it parked in Long Beach on Wednesday.

Othello Hernandez: I'll just remember it as a special day.

That's 7-year-old Othello Hernandez.

Hernandez: Seeing a rock that big. I think it's pretty amazing.

Also amazing is the $5 million trailer carrying the rock. It's two stories tall -- the length of a football field and three lanes wide.

Terry Emmert is in the driver's seat.

Terry Emmert: Quite a view up here, isn't it?

He's the vice president of Emmert International, the company tasked with moving the boulder. And if you think your car is a gas guzzler, consider this:

Emmert: I'd say we're probably getting about 15 gallons per mile. We're doing about 8-10 miles a night.

That means moving the rock can burn through 150 gallons a night. Then there's the crew readying L.A.'s streets for the trailer.

Emmert: It's tens of thousands of dollars a night for these crews to be out here removing signals, utility lines and cables. And then as soon as we pass by, they have to put them back up.

The total price tag for this work of art is estimated around $10 million. Only $70,000 for the rock itself. The L.A. County Museum of Art is footing the bill.

LACMA's Miranda Carroll says even though they get some taxpayer money -- none of that went to the boulder.

Miranda Carroll: Nope. Not a dime. Everything is paid for by private donors.

The finished piece will be titled "Levitated Mass." The rock will sit atop a trench. People can walk under it. Carroll says bringing artist Michael Heizer's vision to life is a big investment. But it could become an L.A. icon, like the Hollywood sign.

Carroll: To have an actual identifying symbol, I think, is very significant. This will be something, people will say "meet me at the rock" or "come park at the rock" -- that kind of thing.

Steven Pater: $10 million for this? I don't know.

That's Steven Pater. He came out from Hermosa Beach to see the rock.

Pater: A scholarship or two would have been a much better way to spend the money. But you know, it's a free country. They've got the money they can spend it the way they want.

And you know what they say -- you can't put a price on art.

I'm Sanden Totten for Marketplace.

About the author

Sanden Totten is the science reporter for KPCC. He is a fan of loud music, comics and movies about time travel.

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