Friday, January 20, 2012

Toy cars and trains

click all photos to "embiggen"

Chris Burden's "Metropolis II" is on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Metropolis II" is a kinetic sculpture, modeled after a modern city. Rails, ramps, and roadways thread through building-like structures - towers, blocks, models - interweaving through the steel beams that form the bones of the structure. In the center, two massive six-lane "highways" chug fleets of Hot Wheels style toy cars up to a summit from which they wheel away and down through the fantasy city. HO scale electric trains and streetcards also thread their way along the lower part of the structure.

The toy cars have been modified, and the tracks are teflon-coated, so the cars speed at 240 scale-miles per hour, raising a terrific constant din, which, according to Burden, is part of the point he's trying to make, saying "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city."

The ramps that lift the cars are motorized and the trains are electric, but all the rest of the frenetic motion is the result of gravity. An attendant is required to monitor the machines, in case a car goes off the tracks and causes chaos, so the piece is viewed in scheduled 90 minute "performances."

We arrived on a Monday, when sponsor Target makes it possible for LACMA to be open for free. There were families and kids everywhere, and the line for "Metropolis II" was long, but once people got into the room, you could see how compelling it is. Everyone - kids and adults - had an expression on their faces that read "How cool!"

The buildings are made of toy-like pieces like Legos, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks and model parts, furthering the sense of play and fun.

The room where the sculpture is displayed is ringed on three sides by viewing balconies, so in addition to getting a close-up view from the ground, you can see the big picture.

I found the motorized ramps fascinating to watch, and I loved the pattern-like look of the little shiny colored rectangles jig-jig-jigging upward, like cars on a six-lane roller coaster.

As I'm seeing more and more in museums, everyone has a camera or a camera phone, and everyone is taking pictures - like I myself am. At first, this put me off a bit, but as you can see I came around. While I know my photos aren't high quality reproductions of the artwork, it's like having a visual journal to help remember the experience.

What a wonderful way to introduce kids to art - a free trip to the museum, a look at the coolest toy car set ever, and it's OK to take pictures. How many miniature versions of "Metropolis II" are being built in living rooms and kids' bedrooms right now?

Chris Burden's other well-loved piece at LACMA is the installation "Urban Light", a collection of salvaged street lamps arranged in a cluster at the museum's entrance.


Cassi said...

That is so very cool --and I would never have heard of it if you hadn't posted. I'm looking forward to showing my daughter your pictures --she loves to build, and she has a great collection of miscellaneous cars she's collected over her 11 years.

smalltownme said...

That looks like fun!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

More pics is better, Aunt Snow. And with practice, everyone will be taking better pics (almost as nice as yours ;)

Anonymous said...

I would love to see that!

cactus petunia said...

So cool!

M. Bouffant said...

Almost went to this today, but life interfered, as it so often does.

I suspect it will be there for a while though.

And, blog-pimping.

(Not shameless, as it's completely relevant.)

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

"The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city."

The fact that the sculpture is so cool, and so beloved, kinda undercuts this purpose!