Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Another L.A.

Installation view Chris Burden Metropolis II, 2010 Three ½ hp DC motors with motor controllers, 12,000 custom manufactured die-cast cars (1,100 for operating, 10,900 for replenishing damaged cars), 26 HO-scale train sets with controllers and tracks (13 for operating, 13 for replenishing damages), steel, aluminum, shielded copper wire, copper sheet, brass, various plastics, assorted woods and manufactured wood products, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Dado Cubes, glass, ceramic and natural stone tiles, acrylic and oil-base paints, rubber, sundry adhesives. 9 ft., 9in. (H) x 28 ft., 3in. (W) x 19ft., 2in. (D). Courtesy of The Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation © Chris Burden Photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Next time you are gridlocked on the 405, imagine an alternative LA: a city in which cars speed without stalling or colliding on a network of freeways that loop around an eclectic array of towers. Trains run on elevated tracks and the ground lies forgotten, far below. It’s the city that Filippo Marinetti conceived in his Futurist Manifesto and Fritz Lang brought to the screen in Metropolis. Eighty-five years later, Chris Burden has revived the concept as Metropolis II and this mesmerizing installation is on long-term loan to LACMA, a few steps from Urban Light, his forest of vintage street lamps. Orson Welles described the RKO Studio as “the greatest train set a boy ever had,” and Metropolis II is a kinetic toy to delight frustrated drivers and their offspring. Perforated metal members support a multi-level complex of buildings (including an Eames House of Cards, an Orthodox cathedral, and megastructures from 1970s Japan). A thousand miniature cars are carried aloft on three conveyor belts and released onto tracks where gravity speeds them downwards. It’s as exciting a spectacle as the Monaco Grand Prix, and it could be realized once computers take over from fallible human drivers. In the meantime, the artist should be given a high-level planning position so that he can share his vision with the bureaucrats. Ray Bradbury once proposed that Walt Disney be made mayor of LA, because he was the only person who could make a city fun and profitable, and Burden also deserves his chance to be an urbanist.  (Metropolis II is located on the first floor of BCAM. To check the hours of operation, Friday-Sunday, click here.]

Meanwhile, back in the real world, LACMA is still waiting for Michael Heizer’s rock to be trucked in from the desert. It’s only 60 miles as the crow flies, but rocks don’t fly and this shipment has to be negotiated with a score of jurisdictions, avoiding power lines and bridges that cannot sustain the load.  Heizer’s title for his art work is Levitated Mass; a pity he can’t perform that trick to speed its progress to Hancock Park. LACMA are optimistic they’ve resolved the issues and look forward to completing the installation by late April.

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