Information may be the fuel of the modern city, but traffic is its blood. Chris Burden’s massive model Metropolis II pays respects to the never ending flow of urban autos by circulating 1200 hundred die-cast cars through its 18 lanes. Burden estimates that the sculpture moves 100,000 toy cars through its tracks every hour! Metropolis II is Hot Wheels writ large, and it is awesome. Coming this Fall to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Metropolis II is sure to attract a steady flow of visitors, but you can see it now. The videos below give you a taste of how loud, beautiful, and awing this artwork really is. I’m not sure which I find more impressive: that it took more than four years for Burden and his colleagues to construct Metropolis II, or that I could sit and watch its hypnotizing stream of traffic for just as long.
Since its acquisition by LACMA, Metropolis II has been attracting a lot of media attention – mentioned in the New York Times, LA Times, dozens of online sources and it even has its own mini-documentary. Here are two of the best looks at the sculpture. The first is from G4’s Attack of the Show for those that like their videos snappy and fast paced. The second is Super Marche’s five minute documentary for those that like artistic cinematography, chill music, and up close shots. Choose wisely, or, you know, just watch them both:
Burden released a video of Metropolis II back in 2009 which shows what the artwork looked like while still under primary construction. It’s short but worth a look:
Those familiar with the world of modern performance art will recognize Burden’s name, but if you’re like me, his work bears some explaining. Since the 70s, Burden has created some pretty hardcore installations. He was shot with a gun, nailed to a Volkswagen bug, and spent most of a month hiding in a gallery. All in the name of art. Yet that extreme beginning has slowly matured into an equally extreme fascination with modern life and technology. Burden built a concept car capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon, a mechanical television, a kitchen completely filled with light bulbs, and an automated assembly line that manufactured rubber-band powered airplanes. Most impressively perhaps was Ghost Ship, a robotic yacht that traveled autonomously around the UK in 2005.
Metropolis I, now on display in Japan, was completed in 2004 with just 80 cars and two single lane highways. Burden knew he wanted something bigger. Metropolis II is ten feet high, thirty feet wide, and filled with ten times as many cars and lanes as its predecessor (there are even 13 trains, too). With Metropolis II Burden continues to examine and comment on modern living, and the strange pulse of noise and traffic that is familiar to every urban citizen.
I’m not above sharing things with you simply because I find them cool (the moving toothpick sculpture of San Francisco comes to mind). The statements behind Metropolis II, however, bear a certain importance in my mind. The world is rushing into cities, and urbanity is going to shape the 21st Century to a degree that we’ve never seen before. New mega-metropolitan sprawls of unprecedented size are planned in China, established cities are bloating all over the world, and we’re connecting those cities to each other with new heights of digital communication. The amazing sight and sounds of Metropolis II bring that escalating change home for me in a way I find both enticing and scary. An endless flow of toy traffic seems so beautiful until a car jumps the track or grinds its model highway to a stop with its collision. Let’s hope that the real world equivalent traffic disasters will be far rarer in our ongoing pursuit of urban living.
[screen capture credit: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (SuperMarche)]
[sources: Gagosian Gallery]