Mystery Train

October 2, 2008

Train, work in progress, © Jeff Koons

It’s inevitable, I suppose. Offer to suspend an extremely large object high above a public place, and people will talk about it. I’m referring to LACMA’s plan to build the Jeff Koons sculpture Train, a notion that became public in February 2007 and has been resurfacing every once in a while ever since. It was mentioned in coverage of this week’s Phase II announcement, and Esquire just predicted that Train will be the first iconic monument of the new century—”if it indeed gets built.”

Train would be a lifesize replica of a 1940s steam locomotive, suspended from a 161-foot-high crane. Three times a day it would perform: wheels churning, whistle sounding, smoke blowing.

At a talk that unveiled the project, Koons recalled his moment of inspiration. He was in Sweden, trying to come up with an idea for a site. ” I really didn’t have any ideas, but I saw off in the distance a crane out in the field,” he said. “And I thought, you know, the crane’s such a great image, it’s a wonderful readymade, it’d be really nice to do something with it. And I guess also, on kind of a subconscious level, it’s like a Led Zeppelin stairway to heaven or something.”

But will it get built? It sounds like it will, though not soon (installation is projected for 2012). John Bowsher, LACMA’s director of special art installations, told me that the feasibility study should be finished this fall, and the next step would be a high resolution scan of the 2900 series locomotive, an example of which has been found in Albuquerque. “This will be the first step in reverse-engineering in order to fabricate the locomotive,” Bowsher wrote in an email. “It will be a long lead process. Current estimates are 8-10 months to complete the scanning and create the digital files.”

Tom Drury


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