LACMA’s Michael Govan on Jeff Koons’ locomotive, James Turrell retrospective


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In Sunday’s Page 1 profile of Michael Govan, taking stock five years into his job, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art talked in detail about Michael Heizer’s 340-ton boulder, ‘Levitated Mass,’ coming to LACMA this fall.

He also discussed two artist projects whose timeline is less certain. On the definitely indefinite front: Jeff Koons’ vision for a life-size replica of a locomotive that would hang from a 161-foot-tall crane on the LACMA campus. When Govan first announced the plans in 2007, he compared it to the Eiffel Tower. That kind of landmark does not come cheap, and the artist told reporters as recently as two years ago that it’s a $25-million artwork.


Since then the fundraising climate soured and Koons’ California fabricator, Carlson & Co, went out of business after completing a $2.3-million feasibility study, prompting many art-world insiders to call the project dead in the water. Govan and Koons say that’s not the case. ‘I am very confident the work will be made,’ Koons says. He says they are now working with the German fabricator Arnold, outside of Frankfurt, to do an additional engineering study.

Govan says he has committed to spending half a million dollars for this new study but does not have ‘a final method of construction’ or a ‘final fundraising plan.’ He admits he is ‘not completely certain’ it will get built, adding that the work is ‘a kind of a dream. It’s this beautiful, beautiful image that means many things and could serve the purpose of marking this place as a center of the city, a large metropolis.’

On another front, Govan says that the museum is still planning to host a major James Turrell exhibition -- originally discussed for 2011 and now tentatively planned for 2013 -- in collaboration with the Guggenheim and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Because Turrell’s work is ‘site-involved if not site-specific, the idea is to coordinate these three venues to show different aspects of the work, not just travel the same show,’ says LACMA’s director.

He says he is also working with Turrell to complete a pair of sculptures on top of the rooftop of LACMA West, the former May Co. building, which is supposed to undergo renovation by then: ‘The idea is that maybe we can make it all work for the time of the retrospective.’

As for the original notion that all of this could take place upon the public opening of the Roden Crater, Turrell’s monumental art installation built into an extinct volcano outside of Flagstaff, Ariz., don’t hold your breath. The crater’s completion date has been postponed so many times since Turrell started the project in the late 1970s that nobody involved wants to offer a timeline. (And no decent journalist would publish it without serious disclaimers anyway.)

‘No dates are given [for the Crater] any more,’ Govan says. ‘Pretty soon it’s going to eclipse Watts Towers, which was one of the inspirations for it,’ he says, mentioning the L.A. skyscrapers that took Simon Rodia over 30 years to complete. ‘The only way to describe it is ongoing.’ ALSO


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For The Times.