Chris Burden foresees an LA where cars self-drive at over 200 miles an hour. Utopian or dystopian fantasy? We hear about Metropolis II from Chris Burden, Michael Govan, Thomas Crow, Zack Cook and Dan Neil. Plus, Barton Choy and Steve Wong on Chinese-American postwar architects in Los Angeles; and Benjamin Ball on the Temporary Insanity of installation design.
Urban Light, a grove of ornate, historic lampposts at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has become a much-loved landmark, and a gentle evocation of the Southland’s past. Now the same artist, Chris Burden, has created a new interpretation of Los Angeles, that’s the opposite of a stroll down a Victorian street. Burden, known for his performance and installation work, has created a kinetic sculpture named Metropolis II, a room-size imaginary city, with multi-level freeways and rail lines looping around cheerful skyscrapers. It’s made of Plexiglas, glass and stone tile and children’s building materials: Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and Haba wooden blocks. It's also a feat of engineering, involving years of experimentation by a team of artists and lead engineer Zack Cook.
The result is a delight, an artwork that’s instantly accessible, and appeals to the kid in all of us. But it’s meant to do more that. Burden says the sculpture is meant to evoke an LA of the future, where self-driving cars zip along at 200 miles per hour and one could drive from Pasadena to Santa Monica in a handful of minutes. Thomas Crow, professor of modern art at New York University, comments on this clattering, whirring vision of the future, especially in comparison to the peaceful Urban Light. And LACMA's director Michael Govan speaks about why Burden's interpretation of the city was the perfect addition to LACMA's collection. But could Burden's vision really be a glimpse into LA's future? Frances asks Dan Neil, auto critic for the Wall Street Journal, for his take on whether or not Metropolis II could eventually be a reality.
A video of the making of Metropolis II by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
The sculpture is so complex an operator must stand at the center while it's running to make sure nothing goes awry. Photo by Alissa Walker
Chris Burden points out some structural features at one corner of the sculpture. Photo by Alissa Walker
We're midway through the art world marathon that is Pacific Standard Time, with several shows closing and new ones about to open. One of those new shows is called Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles 1945-1980and it opens this week at the Chinese American Museum. As with most of the PST shows, it offers up a new look at a time that in some ways feels like yesterday and in other ways so long ago. During this period China was not the building mecca it is now, and Asian designers were not a significant part of the mix at local design schools and offices, but rather were a minority, and treated as such. Breaking Ground shows off the postwar work of four Chinese-American architects, Eugene Choy, Gilbert Leong, Helen Liu Fong and Gin Wong. Frances visits the show with the show's curator, Steve Wong, and architect Barton Choy, Eugene Choy's son.
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association by Eugene Choy and Kong Chow Benevolent Association by Gilbert Leong, Photograph by Dan Kaufman / Studio Kaufman
Cathay Bank by Eugene Choy, Photograph by Dan Kaufman / Studio Kaufman
On January 31 Frances will be hosting a conversation called "Temporary Insanity!" at LACMA with Jenna Didier, co-founder of design laboratory Materials and Applications. The conversation will focus on designers who are producing a new kind of installation work that’s blurring the boundaries between art, architecture and installation. Recently at Materials and Applications and also at the architecture school SCI-Arc, young architects have created temporary structures, that bring to life shapes and forms imagined on the computer. They are often made by hand in fabric or new plastics and metals and function as purely sensual experiences, filtering the light or shape in an interesting way. One of the prominent designers in this realm is Benjamin Ball, who with Gaston Nogues, heads the firm Ball-Nogues. He speaks with Frances about why this type of work has become popular for young designers.
Outside the Santa Monica Place mall, Ball-Nogues' Cradlesuspends hundreds of mirror-polished stainless steel orbs over pedestrians. Photo by Monica Nouwens
Currently on show at Materials & Applications is Bloom, a work by Doris Sung, Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter and Matthew Melnyk: a 20 foot tall shiny metal 'flower' whose skin of petals reacts to the heat of the sun. Photo by Scott Mayoral
In the parking lot of SCI-Arc, in downtown LA, Oyler Wu's Netscape uses 45,000 feet of linear rope to knit a canopy which was used for graduation ceremonies at the school. Photo courtesy Oyler Wu
Top image: Ball-Nogues' Yucca Crateris a temporary swimming pool built in the desert outside Joshua Tree, California. Photo by Scott Mayoral