Dec 10, 2013
On the Big Rock
Posted on Mar 13, 2012
My largest problem, however, with “Levitated Mass” is not with its artistic quality (or lack of quality), but rather with the excessive cost of the process. The private donors who spent upward of $10 million for this “event” are perfectly free to deploy their funds any way they wish. I take no issue with their legal and moral rights, but rather with their judgment, especially in an era of precarious financial distress for the arts in general.
Some recent Los Angeles examples are disconcertingly useful in establishing a broader context for my critical observations. In 2007, the black-owned Golden State Mutual Life Insurance company sold off most of its collection of original artworks from its historic West Adams building in an unsuccessful attempt to save the firm from insolvency. New York’s Swann Auction Galleries sold 94 artworks from the Golden State collection for a total of $1.54 million.
For approximately 20 years, I conducted tours of the building for university students and community groups, especially young people. During those tours, I used the now-departed artworks to offer insights about African-American history in general and Los Angeles art and history in particular. I doubt that the big rock will afford me similar educational opportunities.
For many years, moreover, Los Angeles was known as the mural capital of the world. More than 1,000 of these vibrant public works beautified neighborhoods and offered communities access to art of exemplary quality, often produced by first-rate painters for whom social and historic themes were of paramount importance. Unfortunately, hundreds of these murals have deteriorated dramatically through the ravages of time, neglect, environmental degradation and vandalism. Only a few have been repaired and no systematic restoration program in Los Angeles exists; the cost would be a mere fraction of the expenses for the big rock.
Everyone has noticed the extreme budgetary cutbacks in local public schools, a reality that is unfortunately national in scope. As usual, arts programs are among the earliest victims of the budgetary ax. Draconian cuts have reduced or eliminated arts programs throughout the schools, keeping young people from pursuing their creative interests and in some cases from more destructive activity on neighborhood streets. Arts education has hugely valuable consequences both for the recipients and for society. I can only imagine what even a fraction of the $10 million for the big rock might do in restoring this essential feature of the educational process.
Most distressingly, Los Angeles is full of dynamic and gifted artists but only a handful has achieved widespread recognition with little problem attracting exhibition venues. Thousands struggle to maintain marginal lifestyles while still producing their artworks. The infusion of even a modest amount of money into community galleries and small grant funds would be monumentally helpful—not only for the material resources, but for the recognition that these artists’ work has value in society. A fragment of the big rock cost could go a long way toward this valuable objective.
Now that the big rock has been delivered to LACMA, the ballyhoo has only increased. But sound and fury of its triumphant entry will fade quickly and justifiably into obscurity, like all the artistic fads before it.
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