Whether you love or hate him, California artist Chris Burden is a genius — he makes a living playing with toys, on an epic scale.
Burden’s kinetic sculpture Metropolis II is a mesmerizing cityscape where 1,100 toy cars blaze down 18 lanes of freeways in endless loops. The work took Burden, his chief engineer Zak Cook, and ten assistants four years to build in his Topanga Canyon studio.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan promptly dubbed it “a portrait of L.A.” and secured it for display this fall.
A forerunner sculpture used Hot Wheels cars and tracks, but these proved unreliable at high speeds, so Burden switched to custom cars and plexiglass roadways. Industrial conveyor belts grab the cars magnetically, hoist them high, then release them to careen through an architecture of Unistrut framing, Lego, Haba Blocks, and Lincoln Logs.
Burden, 65, made his name in the 1970s with risky performance art (he had himself shot with a rifle and crucified on a Volkswagen, among other stunts) before turning to installations and sculptures exploring science, technology, and politics.
Metropolis II has layers of meaning — there’s the hurry-up-and-stop traffic going nowhere, the ceaseless racket of 100,000 cars passing every hour, the portent of robotic vehicles. “This idea that a car runs free, with a driver in control who can accelerate at will, is soon going to be a notion of the past,” Burden predicts. “All cars will have a digital slot. You’ll be able to go 200 or 300mph on the freeway.”
It’s also the latest of Burden’s great big toys. He’s built a 65-foot skyscraper from Erector parts, and launched a self-navigating sailboat. Next he’s building a two-story bridge of scaled-up Anker Stone toy blocks.
18 Lanes: makezine.com/go/burden