Thursday, June 18, 2015

Up 'n' Away @ LACMA

Chris Burden's Ode to Santos Dumont at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is an elegant piece of engineering, as great engineering should be. I know about that which I speak as my late (actually he was never not on time, usually early) father, Al Deutsch, was a skilled and creative engineer. He as a wonderful draftsman; everything he built in our house, not to mention for his industrial employers, was well sketched, measured and ... did I mention measured and sketched? His desk remains filled with all sorts of mechanical pencils, rulers and templates, and other drafting equipment (something that fits on the side of a table and has an adjustable right angle gizmo so that parallel lines can be made accurately). I have his slide rules with which he built machines and calculated critical dimensions used in the nuclear and chemical businesses.

Thus the conceit of having Burden's kinetic work at LACMA, instead of the airplane/spaceship - filled exhibitions at the Science Museum in Expo Park or in an auxiliary  off-site venue, such as the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, provokes us to consider the art - forward aspects of the work. The word "elegant", as in "Elegant Universe" is important. Here is where aesthetic meets science. Where the journey is as  gorgeous as the goal. The magical twist of fate makes the energy used well worth the investment.

The artist, who, like my father, was always early, in this case to depart this material plane, must have enjoyed his childhood -- or clearly wasn't done with it, as his Metropolis II Erector Set + Hot Wheels (all trademarked names, of course) work also in the LACMA collection, seems to be an "if you could build anything you would like, what would it be ..." moment.What adult wouldn't enjoy fulfilling a childhood fantasy given all the resources necessary. What child wouldn't love to have grown-up toys? Isn't this what the high-tech design movement was about, with such now defunct stores in LA as Industrial Revolution on Melrose.

The beautiful movement of Santos around the Resnick Pavilion reminds me of the soft, relaxed pace of Hayao Miyazaki's last film The Wind Rises. In the illustrated feature the protagonist Jiro Horikoshi conjures up Italian aeroplane designer Giovanni Caproni as he searches for that elegant solution to a technical challenge that intended nonetheless deadly consequences.

I almost wanted to hear music in the pavilion today. It was as much an ode as it was elegiac.