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Chris Burden Sculpture


Art at Speed: 'Metropolis II' preps for museum debut

Model cityscape features 1,100 cars, scale speeds of 230 mph

Artist Chris Burden has created either a highly efficient and fully working model of a frenetic cityscape, which sounds like his original goal, or the best Hot Wheels track ever made. Except that the 1,100 cars racing around 18 roadways at scale speeds of up to 230 mph are not Hot Wheels. Burden made all 1,100 of them himself, just like the rest of his "Metropolis II" installation, which will open to the public on Jan. 14 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"I love hearing that the cars are going 230 mph [scale speed]," Burden says in the video he produced of the city. "That makes me very hopeful for the future. That's about the speed they should be going, not 23.4 mph, which is what my BMW says I average driving around L.A."

The cars lack the detail and flash of Hot Wheels, too, but that could be because they are all melded into one big, thrumming urban landscape, so anonymity comes with the territory. In addition to the cars there is a network of 13 HO-scale trains. All of it weaves in and out of a series of high-rise buildings made of everything from glass, ceramic and steel to Lincoln Logs. The whole thing covers an area 28 feet long, 19 feet wide and it rises almost 10 feet high. It's art.

The cars are lifted by 0.5-hp motors turning a big conveyor-belt track six lanes wide. The custom-manufactured die-cast cars have magnets embedded underneath. The magnets on the conveyor belt and the magnets on the cars enable the cars to be brought to the top of the sculpture without a physical contact between the belt and cars. At the top of the sculpture, the cars are released one at a time. There are fast lanes and sections where several lanes slow to a crawl, just as in a real city.

"What's really stressful is that stop-and-go, low-speed, high-speed, where it speeds up and slows down," Burden says. "That is highly stressful. It's different than cruising along on an open-road at constant speed."

And it's not just the traffic that might get you.

"The noise is real amazing in terms of how it produces a level of tension, too."

That was Burden's plan; not to recreate a diorama of a city or other setting, as you might see at a model railroad exhibit.

"It wasn't about trying to make this scale model of something. It was more to evoke the energy of a city."

Burden sees it as something of a snapshot in time, too.

"It's about to be over, the idea that a car runs free. Those days are about to close. So it's a little like making a model of New York City at the turn of the last century and you're modeling horse buggies everywhere and the automobile's about to arrive. So something else is about to arrive."

If you want to arrive at the exhibit, check out the museum's Web site at or call (323) 857-6000 for times, hours and other info.

And while you're there, be sure to walk across the street and visit the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles. Or you can drive your car there--just not at 230 mph.

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
Ok, I'm a car nut, but cars are sculpture too! I find this quite fascinating - the message, the design, the detail. Way to go Chris Burden, you speak volumes with this ever so creative and meaningful piece...

Chris Burden Sculpture
"Metropolis II" by Chris Burden