|Checking for clearance|
|Moving the Rock--that's it, bagged in white and |
suspended from the vehicle
We'll get to Rome in a moment.
The second event, no less wondrous, also involved a large object moving along the city's avenues: the Shuttle Endeavour--the vehicle that replaced the ill-fated Challenger and supplied the international space station for many years--making its final journey, this time on land, from Los Angeles International Airport (referred to always as LAX) to the California Science Center, 12 miles away, where it would sit on display in retirement. Although the shuttle was much lighter than the Rock, it was also much larger, with a wingspan of 78 feet. Trees--some 400 of them--had to be cut down to accommodate the ship (this was not popular with folks living along the route nor with many others), and for a time the authorities insisted that the breadth of the shuttle was such that sidewalks would have to be closed to the public.
|Larger than life, the Shuttle on Crenshaw.|
|Observers on rooftop, right|
And what's Rome got to do with it, "got to do with it"? That's where Mr. Hawthorne comes in. "Los Angeles," he writes, "is in some striking ways reenacting one of the oldest public celebrations in Western urban history, the Roman triumph." The Roman triumph, he explains, was an elaborate procession, a grand parade, celebrating a military victory of Rome's imperial armies.
|The Triumph of Camillus|
|The Arch of Constantine, where|
Mussolini honored Italo Balbo
(three centuries after this painting).
|Balbo's Arch of the Fileni,|
The Los Angeles connection is harder to articulate, but it's what makes Mr. Hawthorne's column so valuable. "We used to make stuff here," he writes, "and send it out into the world or into outer space. Now we capture that stuff, tether it to the back of a huge vehicle and arrange a low-speed, celebratory public parade through the streets of Los Angeles before putting it on display in one of our major museums." There is, he suggests, something "imperial" in all this, as we take stuff from "out there"--and that means anywhere, even outer space--and put it in a building for people to see. In doing so, Mr. Hawthorne concludes, "we affirm some basic idea of what contemporary Los Angeles means or stands for."
|The Rock, now art at LACMA. We once flew|
kites in this space.
So what does Los Angeles stand for, given its newfound penchant for triumphal parades featuring big objects?
It stands for spectacle, for producing systems and events that amaze and confound: the talking pictures, Hollywood, Disneyland, Universal City, Cinerama, 3-D--and now the Rock and the Endeavour. It stands--or once stood--for aerospace techology (the Endeavor was built in Los Angeles) and for art (the Rock is an art work, in a city undergoing an artistic resurgence). But most of all, LA stands for museums. The Rock has already been mounted for display in a museum, and the Endeavour just went on disl
And that means that Mr. Hawthorne is right, that there is something "imperial" going on. Museums are inherently imperial; they house things that often come from afar and once belonged to others. They've been bought or taken, sometimes stolen, removed from their original settings, for the pleasure, in this case, of Angelinos. That's why the Getty Center, another "new" Los Angeles museum--and, appropriately, faux Roman--has been forced to return many of the objects of antiquity that it once housed: they were acquired in imperial transactions.
Moreover, oil tycoon John Paul Getty, whose 1970s Villa/Museum in Los Angeles was modeled on the Roman Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, likened himself to Caesar and was comfortable with descriptions of Getty Oil as an "empire." The Getty museums house some 44,000 objects from antiquity. The Rock and the Endeavour have a different provenance; they were neither stolen nor taken from another society. But they are part of the imperial museum culture that is the new LA.
|The Getty Villa, Los Angeles|