L.A.'s newest, biggest rock star has 'em in awe

"Levitated Mass" in L.A. museum is 340 ton boulder
"Levitated Mass" in L.A. museum is 340 ton boulder

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES -- New York has the Statue of Liberty, Washington has its majestic monument.

Now, Los Angeles has a new attraction of its own. It's not exactly statuesque. Some people are asking whether it's art. But for sure - it's a very different kind of Hollywood hunk!

In a town where celebrities are often the center of the universe, something far less flashy has managed to steal the spotlight. "I think it is brilliant," said one woman. "I think it is monumental."

"Monolithic!" one man exclaimed.

"Amazing and cool," a boy observed.

They're talking about a rock - or what the Los Angeles County Museum of Art calls sculpture.

Its name is Levitated Mass, and this slab of stone has become the talk of the town. The museum is betting its reputation (and $10 million from donors) that it will become a must-see L.A. icon.

"This is either the best idea ever, or it's a total screw-up," said museum board member Terry Semel.

The massive crowd that turned out to walk underneath the 340-ton boulder seemed to think it was pretty cool.

"I felt like I was on another planet," said one woman.

"I was like, 'That is the biggest rock I've ever seen in my life!"' said a boy.

The museum's CEO, Michael Govan, said, "If you step back a little further, you can see the sun and the edges of palm trees. But it's very abstract, and very beautiful."

Govan, who showed CBS News around before the rock star's big debut, said he welcomes the debate about whether or not it's art.

"What the artist has done by situating it is asking all those questions about a form," he said, "that you can examine it in three dimensions, that it has light and shadow."

But art or not, is he OK with the fact that a lot of people are going to come because they want to stand under a really big rock? "That's what they should want to do," Govan responded. "Is that so different from what ancient cultures were doing when they were building pyramids, or awe-inspiring objects, that people would just say, 'Wow, look at that!' "

Just driving the rock to the museum was impressive. It took 11 nights to travel 105 miles through 22 cities.

The reclusive artist, 67-year-old Michael Heizer, first imagined the idea in 1968. He's been obsessed with rocks, and it took him 37 years to find "the one." He was overwhelmed by the thousands who came to see his vision become reality. "I'm just taking it in," he said.

The museum's bet already seems to be paying off in publicity.

"The Egyptians moved rocks for publicity," Heizer chuckled. "It was the same idea: You do something bold and dramatic that is intended to have lasting consequence, and I think that's what you would call real publicity."

And now, finding the biggest rock star in L.A. isn't so hard.

The public can see Levitated Mass for free.

Another exhibit by Heizer is opening soon at the museum - a collection of his photographs of large rocks, taken all over the world.

To see Ben Tracy's report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.