What happened to fun? In the clinical white of the gallery, art can be forbidding, aggrieved, elite, academic. Shouldn’t it also, sometimes, be joyous?
The collaborators behind Luna Luna thought so. This was the amusement park staged in Hamburg, Germany, in 1987, where nearly 30 professional artists including Basquiat, Hockney and Dalí designed the rides. About 250,000 people attended that summer — families, children, students, hipsters seeking reprieve. But shoestring funding and a thwarted tour let the production sit, disassembled and forgotten in storage, for 35 years.
Now, at a staggering cost nearing nine figures, about half the attractions have been restored, beautifully, and arranged for the public in a new show in Los Angeles titled “Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy.”
Gathering in front of Kenny Scharf’s airbrushed swing ride at Luna Luna.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times
Though I came expecting to spin until sick on Kenny Scharf’s airbrushed swing ride, Luna Luna is not participatory. You can walk among but not touch its rides, which are installed in a hangar, lined in black carpet, near the city’s downtown. Despite dramatic lighting, the presence of live clowns (beware) and the appropriately bubbly soundtrack by Philip Glass from the fair’s debut, this exhibition, with considerable didactics, is the kind of thing a museum might mount if it had the money. (Funding came privately, mostly from the production company of the rapper Drake. Live Nation was enlisted for the remount.)
The sheer scale and volume of the rides allows certain very commercialized and very reproduced artists to impress in a new way. Keith Haring’s cartoon avatars, brought to candy-lacquered life as large seats on his merry-go-round, seem finally to have found their natural habitat. As for Jean-Michel Basquiat, a pleasure craft is the most successful canvas for his deadpan: On a primed white Ferris wheel, his black glyphs adorning each gondola symbolize some aspect of chaos or Americana or slapstick, while his anatomical drawings covering the wheel’s buttresses poke fun at the bodily thrill of the whirl.
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