I spent the morning at LACMA, witnessing the start of what I am pretty sure will be a beautiful friendship between a piece of art and LA’s kids. Chris Burden’s METROPOLIS II is a four-story model of a futuristic city, where driver-less cars whiz around calibrated freeways. With die-cast cars, architecture that is colorful if not downright friendly (in stark contrast to sleek, industrial structures so common to futuristic depictions), and a vision of a well-balanced urban design, it’s no wonder that all the adults in the crowd were snapping away on their iPhones and Nikons. We couldn’t help but gaze in awestruck pleasure as the artist flicked the ‘ON’ switch for his new toy — whoops, I mean installation — and handed over symbolic keys to his metropolis to LACMA head Michael Govan, and a pair of giddy city representatives. (The installation is now open to the public).
Chris Burden greeted us all by saying “When you’re stuck in traffic, think of this structure” and went on to proclaim that in the future they’ll be no drivers in cars. Instead, he described smooth roadways, calibrated traffic lights and a rather blissful commuting scenario. Listening to the din of his 1100 miniature cars whipping around the track at “‘240 scale miles per hour,” all notions of a George Jetson style commute to the office faded away. Burden’s imaginary city doesn’t portray exit ramps, an interesting problem. I have no idea how my magic transport vehicle would maneuver into the garage of one of the groovy apartment buildings, but no matter. Chris Burden’s vision of urban harmony was fascinating enough.
While examining each colorful building, and while trying to follow a single car on it’s sped-up trip around town, my eye kept returning to the mechanical engineer who stood, tattooed and bespectacled, in the middle of Burden’s delightful contraption, presumably making sure the debut went smoothly, but appearing for all the world as the ultimate child – mesmerized and delighted by the surrounding din.
If you bring the kids — and you SHOULD, SOON! — be sure to arrive when Metropolis II is operating. The cars only zoom around on weekends, for an hour and a half at a time. Now, there’s a solution to the traffic nightmares in LA!