Friday, January 18, 2013

LA - art inspiration

"Today is museum day!"

We were headed for LACMA

I had marked the calendar for that particular Sunday at the start of our LA trip when I saw that a family day would take place. Just my kind of thing. See some art. Get inspired. Expose son to all that creativity, history, beauty.

I love museums of all sorts and make an effort to visit several of LA's diverse choices every time we are in town. Sicily does have some nice museums, but few in comparison and nothing to the scale and level of organization of larger (dare I say non-Italian) cities. 

I hadn't been to LACMA in years and was excited to experience it with the 5 year old. Museum going with my son is an altogether different experience than when I'm on my own. He is speedy! Keeping up is a workout. Engaging in playful observations is the only way to slow him down and get him to take in a bit more carefully the things that he sees. That's why I decided to let him be our guide for the day, let his interests lead us through this mega museum.  

"Ancient things" was the number one choice. We started with ancient Egypt (mummies!) and moved on to the ancient Americas (cool pottery!). I intervened and insisted on a visit to the children's art room which was absolutely perfect: benches and tables and paper and watercolors and bamboo brushes and a room full of children painting. My pushiness through his initial resistance to entering the space paid off as he filled his paper with carefully placed lines and color. What started out as a "heart" turned into "abstract art". Love it. 

5 year old fatigue was starting to show at this point. Once those little legs start slowing down there are not many works of art that will get them running again... 

UNLESS, that is, the work of art happens to be a spectacular moving installation involving thousands of matchbox-like cars racing down miniature speedways that wind around and squeeze between fantastical buildings made out of blocks and other child-friendly construction materials, all erupting into an imaginative cityscape: Metropolis II. Mixed in with the conveyer belt full of cars riding to the summit of the contraption before beginning their roller coaster descent are also tiny railways and tramways that carry slower moving little trams and trains through this make-believe world, back and forth along their individual rails, oblivious to the speedy little cars that whizz by. 

Every other hour the installation is turned on for an hour stretch to let viewers partake in this incredible sight. We viewed Metropolis from every possible angle until we eventually picked a spot and sat down on the floor right in front of it - there was no way the 5 year old was going to leave this piece while the cars were running. Actually, none of the adults in our group minded - we were just as enthralled by the scene as he was.

The statistics of this work are quite astonishing: 
18 roadways, including a 6 lane freeway.
The cars reach speeds of 240 scale mph.
Every hour, the equivalent of 100,000 cars cruise through the city.

An hour later, we couldn't believe the silence of the room after the technician operating the mechanics of the installation shut it down for its repose. Call it miniature urban noise pollution, but our ears were ringing from all that zooming (no wonder the technician was wearing ear protection) and it was a relief to see it as a static sculpture. And that, according to the artist Chris Burden, is precisely what this work of art is all about.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of the 5 year old, the miracle of the machine continued to enthrall him as we finished up our museum visit (there was just enough time to see the amazing retrospective of the work of ceramic artist Ken Price). His fascination was in the hows and whys of its construction and operation. I really tried to enthusiastically respond to his pronouncement "I want to make one!" -- we do often try to make our own versions of inspiring things at home--, but this one is just so intricate and beyond me all I could do was throw back my head and laugh despite my admiration for his innocent ambition. And isn't that what getting inspired is all about?

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