Alison Walker and Rich Sandomeno
How does a seven-year-old kinetic sculpture that has logged more than 5000 hours of operation keep running? The fact is its long term preservation requires 36 hours of maintenance every week and the dedication of 5 extremely talented technician/operators. With degrees in the Visual Arts and decades of combined fabrication experience, the Metropolis II staff are an integral part of LACMA’s Conservation Center. It would be impossible to keep Metropolis II running seamlessly for the enjoyment of the public without constant behind the scenes maintenance. Metropolis II (2011) is a 9’9” (H) x 28’3” (W) x 19’2” (D) sculpture that references a modern city, with motion and powered components as an integral part of the artwork. There are three industrial-stye conveyor systems that use both electricity and magnets to activate an extensive 18 lane freeway system. There are over 1000 cars that “drive” on the freeways when the sculpture is in action. As a counterpoint to the fast paced cars, the sculpture contains a 13-track railway system all with individually powered model trains. There are over 200 pieces of architecture that range from 2” to 9’ tall and made with a diverse set of materials: Lego, stone tiles, Dado Cubes, and wood blocks, to name a few. And each of these disparate things that make up Metropolis II need to be cared for and monitored. However, as frequently experienced with contemporary art, no owner’s manual came with Metropolis II. In addition, because it was purchased by the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation and immediately loaned to LACMA right out of the artist’s studio, there was no historical data or maintenance protocols to reference. The principal task of the Metropolis II team is to create a road map for the ongoing operation and preservation of this complex kinetic sculpture. We continue to learn about the piece as it ages and work diligently to anticipate its needs before there’s a problem. We have documented, counted, cleaned, tested, and cleaned again every square inch of the piece, over and over for seven years. We repair the custom-manufactured die-cast cars, rebuild the model trains, tune-up the conveyor system, and, possibly most importantly, collect and analyze maintenance/performance records. There are 650 hours of normal operation each year, 1,560 hours of maintenance, 56 extra Holiday hours of operation, 52 hours for special events, and this year an additional 360 hours allocated for systematically replacing worn out car track. In this paper, I will outline how we approach conservation of this demanding, kinetic and compelling machine.