Chris Burden’s new work: art imitating the future

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Govan said he learned Burden was working on “Metropolis II” about the time “Urban Light” was being installed.

“Even in its very beginnings you could see the outlines of a great work of art,” Govan said during an interview at the museum earlier this week.

It took Burden four years to construct “Metropolis II” at his studio in the rustic Topanga Canyon arts colony, where he lives with his wife, the sculptor Nancy Rubins.

Nearly 10 feet tall and 30 feet wide, it is made up of, among other things, toy Lego blocks, toy Lincoln logs and HO-scale railroad tracks and trains he picked up at various stores.

He had to have the 1,100 automobiles specially made at a factory in China, however. They include sports cars, sedans, trucks and vans, each one with a little magnet in the chassis, so that they pull and push one another along without ever touching.

Then the whole thing had to be transported to the museum.

“It was an epic effort,” says Govan. “It took seven months to disassemble it in the studio and reassemble it here.”

When Burden fired it up this week, the cars raced along “Metropolis II’s” roads, including its six-lane freeway, at astounding speeds despite the nearly gridlock conditions. And, yes, there were no crashes despite all the tailgating.

Predicting his creation represents the future of automobile traffic, Burden notes Google is already testing driverless cars along San Francisco’s famously winding streets and highways.

Advocates say such digitally driven vehicles could race through intersections at high speeds without colliding and without doing the stupid things that drivers do, like passing each other on blind curves.

“I think it’s going to happen really quickly,” Burden says. “I think people are going to be surprised. In five or 10 years you’re going to see such cars.”

Until then, however, he will continue to make the 20-mile trip to the museum from his home by driving his BMW. But that’s all right with him. He likes having the work at the museum.

Although born in Boston, Burden has lived in LA for more than 40 years. He earned a master’s degree in fine art from the University of California, Irvine, in the early 1970s and, along with Ed Ruscha, is arguably one of the city’s most famous and accomplished pop artists.

“To have it go to Shanghai or Mumbai or to some Saudi Arabian’s palace, it’s not ideal for me,” he said of his work, adding he had opportunities to sell it to other collectors.

“I like it being in my hometown because I can come down and see it and, you know, I can enjoy it myself,” he said.

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