The City in Art, and Architecture: Metropolis II, Temporary Insanity, Breaking Ground

There are a thousand stories in the naked city, as they say, and when it comes to design in LA, many of them are good. So it’s always hard to determine what to make the focus of the once-monthly DnA. But this January, it just seemed like a natural to ruminate on a newly unveiled design/artwork that is about the big city; namely,  Chris Burden’s new installation at LACMA, Metropolis II (right).

Known among art cognoscenti for his madcap — and at times masochistic — performance art of the early 1970s, Burden has emerged, with Urban Light, below, and now Metropolis II, as an impressionist of our strange and wonderful megalopolis (which can be read as an urban anomaly or a bellweather for cities everywhere).

On the show, hear about the making of the piece and Burden’s “utopian” vision, in which automated cars belt around at over 200 miles an hour. (The constant whirr of  the tiny cars as they whizz around may have you thinking this Metropolis is “dystopian.”)

Michael Govan — who has a genius, it seems, for melding large-scale art, architecture and landscape into an urban experience of its own —  situates Metropolis in the history of art and the history of LA; and Dan Neil, the skeptical auto critic, takes aim at monolithic fantasies.

(Also read The Good4NothingConnoisseur’s impression of the piece, without the sound effects, here.)

The topic of “city” segues naturally into two other segments, one about four Chinese-American architects who made a little-known mark on the LA cityscape in the post-war — and found themselves dividied between two schools of design: Modern, in the spirit of the time (as seen in this photo by Julius Shulman of a residence designed for his family in Silverlake, by Eugene Choy, courtesy, © J. Paul Getty Trust) , and, for their Chinese-American clients in Chinatown, Chinese-inflected architecture.

It’s truly a reminder of how things have changed in fifty years to hear that Eugene Choy, one of the four, had to go door to door in Silverlake asking for permission to move into the neighborhood; and it is fascinating to learn about Helen Fong, who made her mark on the Googie classics like Panns, Norms and Bob’s Big Boy.

Also on the show, a taster of what promises to be a tasty discussion coming up at LACMA on the 31st of this month: the conversation will be called Temporary Insanity, I’ll host, and it’s a conversation with three practitioners of what has been a fascinating trend in design these past few years: the creation of installations by architects in public spaces that serve no purpose other than to shape space in structurally and materially experimental ways. Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues (see their early project, right) at Materials & Applications, called Maximilian’s Schell, photographed in situ by Oliver Hess) offers up some insights as to what draws tomorrow’s architects to this mode of design and why it’s so magical for those that witness it.

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