In many countries, on saints' feast days the faithful turn out to welcome the transportation of a sacred object on its way between staging posts. It's an occasion and a cause for celebration, as everyone vies for a better viewpoint, or a chance to touch the icon. Something similar is happening now with our museums.
This year we have two contemporary processionals in the southland. First, the eleven day passage of a huge boulder hewn from living rock in Riverside to take its place, representing its kind, as the centerpiece of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass at LACMA. The transportation of the rock involved mind-boggling calculations of weight, size, route and logistics that obssessed the traveling public for months. At every waystation the rock was feted, photographed, and talked up, until its arrival on the arid lawn of the Resnick building crescendoed into a chorus debating it's merits, with some concluding that the process/procession was the best bit.
And second, the culmination of spaceshuttle Endeavor's journey to it's new permanent home at the California Science Center. Shuttling back and forth to the moon was obviously easy compared to a taste of LA traffic. We have the now familiar litany of the roads not taken, the overpasses passed over and the clearing of roadside lights, poles and wires to make straight the road for this battered survivor of the space race.
In my home, the Olympic flame pulled off a similar coup. Touring our small country, passed from hand to hand, it seemed to summarize our fervent hopes that some objects embody the very essence of an idea. That to see and touch something is to be connected with the spirit of its making.
None of the three processionals are in any way religious, except that they are. The spectacle of an idea making its way across the everyday landscape summons the thrill of being in the presence of something bigger, and in the case of the rock, much bigger, than the minutiae of our ordinary lives.
It's a cliche to say that art has taken over the role of the churches in supplying the sublime to the masses, but sometimes cliches are just a shorthand way of telling the truth.