Metropolis II: Discover the Amazing, Fritz Lang-Inspired Kinetic Sculpture by Chris Burden

Recent­ly deceased artist Chris Bur­den had a long his­to­ry of work­ing with auto­mo­biles in his art. In his ear­ly days he cru­ci­fied him­self to the top of a VW Bee­tle (a piece called Trans Fixed). He set about design­ing and build­ing a 100 mph and 100 mpg auto­mo­bile based on intu­ition called the B‑Car. In Big Wheel he used a motor­cy­cle to power…a big wheel. And in Porsche with Mete­orite he sus­pend­ed the two objects above the muse­um floor on each end of a gigan­tic scale.

metropolis ii

But his mas­sive kinet­ic sculp­ture Metrop­o­lis II is some­thing else: a child’s fever dream of a Hot Wheels-scale city, with 1,100 cars dri­ving end­less­ly on 18 road­ways, with two ramps that are 12 feet high and three con­vey­or sys­tems that feed the cars back into the loop. The met­al and the elec­tric­i­ty need­ed to run the sculp­ture means that the thing is not just a sight to behold, but it’s stag­ger­ing­ly loud.

The title of the kinet­ic sculp­ture gives away its ref­er­ence, that of Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metrop­o­lis (watch it online) and its imag­i­nary city scapes of ele­vat­ed free­ways and train tracks and peo­ple movers and planes that fly in between:

Burden’s work has its own struc­tures too, some of which are made from build­ing blocks, Lego, and Lin­coln Logs, turned into hous­es and sky­scrap­ers. Don’t expect sen­si­ble urban plan­ning in this city: seen from above, Metrop­o­lis II is a chaos of roads, and closed sys­tems from which there is no escape.

There was a tri­al run of the sculp­ture called Metrop­o­lis I, a small­er ver­sion that was soon sold to a Japan­ese col­lec­tor and tak­en out of the pub­lic view.

For the sequel, Bur­den went big­ger, enlist­ing eight peo­ple full time for five and a half years to build the piece. Said the artist:

“We want­ed to expand it and make it tru­ly over­whelm­ing — the noise and lev­el of activ­i­ty are both mes­mer­iz­ing and anx­i­ety pro­vok­ing.”

But instead of a night­mare com­men­tary, Bur­den want­ed the piece to be utopi­an. The cars are mov­ing at 240 mph, accord­ing to scale, and there’s no grid­lock. He was look­ing ahead to a future of dri­ver­less cars, as he shared a hatred like many Ange­lenos of end­less traf­fic jams.

The 30 foot wide sculp­ture was bought for an undis­closed sum by bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Nicholas Berggre­un, who also sits on LACMA’s board. He’s loaned it to the muse­um until 2022 and it is cur­rent­ly now sit­u­at­ed in a spe­cial wing where vis­i­tors can see it both at ground lev­el and from above. It takes one assis­tant to keep it free of hic­cups and it only runs for a few hours at a time, and only on week­ends.

How­ev­er, LACMA’s entry­way is also home to a Bur­den piece one can see 24/7, the icon­ic Urban Light.

via Coudal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Chris Bur­den Get Shot for the Sake of Art (1971)

LA Coun­ty Muse­um Makes 20,000 Artis­tic Images Avail­able for Free Down­load

Chris Bur­den (R.I.P.) Turns Late-Night TV Com­mer­cials Into Con­cep­tu­al Art

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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