Judging from the ecstatic mood, it may as well have been Christmas morning at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as Angelenos finally got a much-awaited first look at Chris Burden’s Metropolis II, a magnetically powered kinetic sculpture of 1,100 hot wheels-like cars zipping through a futuristic version of the City of Angels. “It’s like the toy car set that I’ve always wanted,” commented one press person gleefully to another. Indeed, everyone traveled a few years (or decades) back into their childhood at the sight of it, including me. When asked how he feels finally seeing the exhibition on public view after seven years of working on it and struggling to finance it, artist Chris Burden briefly replies, “Good. Real good.” The exhibition opens to the public on January 14th, but click through our slideshow for a sneak peek.
Metropolis II is a large-scale kinetic sculpture inspired by a Los Angeles of the future, with traffic moving at frenetic speeds.
Chris Burden is a Los Angeles-based international artist earlier known for his life-threatening projects. As a young man, he has shot, electrocuted, cut, and nearly drowned himself in the name of his craft. He now makes large-scale artworks that investigate life in the urban context.
Burden did not specifically model any of the buildings to existing structures in the real world. “We just make mock-ups out of cardboard, make big piles of them and decide which one to use,” says the artist.
Different types of buildings abound in Metropolis II. Each was constructed with the help of a dedicated assistant that specialized either in wood blocks, houses of cards, glass and tile, and other materials.
The moment when cars enter a curve is called a “brush.” It is a crucial moment in the kinetic sculpture, when cars are most likely to tumble off track. In answer to this, the artist and his team constructed the curves in such a way that it touches the rims of the wheels, adding friction and subtly slowing the cars down.
A sculpture as large as this isn’t without its problems. To ensure things are kept smooth, an operator stands in the middle of the frenetic sculpture. Rich Sandomeno, one of the original assistants who saw the project from birth to execution, says, “There are a million different variables with all moving parts. An operator helps correct any inconsistencies. Occasionally, cars turn up side down or hop off the track.”
The frenzy of cars runs on gravity, save for three conveyor belts set right in the middle of the exhibition. Magnets on the conveyor belts attract the magnets inside the cars and help pull them up a steep incline, where they are released down into the intricate system of eighteen roadways weaving in and out of the tiny city.