Metropolis II

Metropolis II by Chris Burden is a beautiful and complex modern art piece that poses interesting questions for conservation practice and future maintenance. I have heard that it costs in excess of $200,000 to operate per year and yet is not run on a daily basis. The cars alone require a considerable amount of care – as the wheel bearings wear out from regularly running at speeds of over 200 scale mph. Watch the video above to see it running!

“Created by artist Chris Burden, Metropolis II (2010) is a complex, large-scale kinetic sculpture modeled after a fast-paced modern city. The armature of the piece is constructed of steel beams, forming an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of eighteen roadways, including a six-lane freeway, train tracks, and hundreds of buildings. 1,100 miniature toy cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour on the specially designed plastic roadways. Every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulates through the sculpture. “The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city.”

Situated in the center of the grid are three electrically powered conveyor belts, each studded with magnets at regular intervals. The magnets on the conveyor belt and those on the toy cars attract, enabling the cars to travel to the top of the sculpture without physical contact between the belt and cars. At the top, the cars are released one at a time and race down the roadways, weaving in and out of the structure, simulating rapid traffic and congestion.

Metropolis II is on long-term loan to LACMA, thanks to the generosity of LACMA Trustee Nicolas Berggruen. Beginning January 14, 2012, the work will be on view on the first floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) and run on weekends during the scheduled times below.

  • The cars are attached by a small magnet to the conveyor belt that brings them to the crest
  • The only motorization of the cars is the conveyor belt to the top
  • Once the cars cross over the crest and head downward, their entire movement is by gravity
  • They travel at a scale speed of 240 mph, plus or minus
  • The tracks they take are Teflon coated to reduce friction
  • The tracks are beveled at 7 degrees to give added torque for speed when they come through corners and curves”

Taken from a press release from LACMA available here.

You can see it running  –
Fridays: 12:30-2 pm; 3-4:30 pm; 5-6:30 pm; 7-8:30 pm
Weekends: 11:30-1:00 pm; 2-3:30 pm; 4-5:30 pm; 6-7:30 pm
Weekdays: not operational


2 thoughts on “Metropolis II

  1. This is a wonderful and highly intricate piece. Thanks for sharing.
    Given its size and complexity, I hope it can find a good permanent home some day but you do have to wonder…

    You could say the noise and bearing wear represent some form of statement about our current reliance on car culture, but those operating costs are certainly a Sword of Damocles hanging over the whole piece.

    One day perhaps, someone will retrofit the tracks and cars for magnetic levitation, which would make the cars mostly frictionless (except for the belt-drive) and make the exhibit much quieter as well.

    That kind of upgrade is nearly a full rebuild, but hey, if a new legit Jaquet-Droz was unearthed tomorrow morning, people would line up to take good care of it. Chris Burden “simply” needs to make sure he becomes famous enough. 🙂

    1. I completely agree – this is a really unusual piece and raises a lot of interesting questions of long term use, conservation, resources…. I’d love to know what the fate of it will be in 200 years.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.