Luna Luna Revives a Forgotten Artist-Created Amusement Park in LA

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A new kind of amusement park is coming to Los Angeles, but Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flags, and Knotts can rest easy. Sure the new park will have plenty of rides. It’s just that no one can ride them. Noted Austrian artist and showman André Heller conceived the park, dubbed Luna Luna, in the 1980s as a platform for marrying art to the wonder of amusement parks. And his ambition attracted luminaries such as Salvador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and David Hockney. All-in-all, 30 distinguished artists helped bring Luna Luna to life with hand-crafted genius. But, after a brief 1987 summer in Hamburg, the park stalled out in a series of shipping containers in Texas. Until now. Luna Luna is being restored and brought to Los Angeles for a limited engagement. By Drake of all people. 

30 Artists. One Vision. 

dalidom installation at luna luna in hamburg 1987

Allegedly, it was a $500,000 grant from a magazine in Germany that sparked the flurry of activity that brought Heller’s Luna Luna into reality. The concept was simple enough: give 30 of the world’s most popular artists free reign to design rides, attractions and games for a new kind of amusement park. 

Performance artists would pepper the grounds, adding even more motion to the proceedings. And unlike Disneyland and the like, this park would be akin to a traveling circus. Heller had every intention of bringing the park around the world. 

A Global Tour Cut Exceedingly Short

Over the summer of 1987, approximately 240,000 guests experienced Luna Luna in its temporary Hamburg location. A resounding success, the next stop was to be San Diego though it wouldn’t open to the public until sometime in the early 1990s. At least that was the idea.

Luna Luna entryway designed by Sonia Delaunay

Obviously, it didn’t quite make it there. A series of financial, legal, and political hiccups derailed the ride, so to speak. Thus a series of shipping containers packed with the pieces that made up Luna Luna ended up marooned in Nocona, Texas, a little over 100 miles north of Dallas. It was far enough away to realistically call it the middle of nowhere. Larger, more awkwardly shaped pieces were housed in an adjacent metal barn. And, people being people, they just sort of forgot that Luna Luna was even a thing. 

A Snowballing Obsession

Over three decades later, a global pandemic was forcing people to get to know their loved ones a bit better, look forward to the social high of visiting the grocery store, and watch Tiger King. Amidst these doldrums, Michael Goldberg, a creative director for hip hop superstar Drake’s eccentric entertainment firm, DreamCrew, was exploring a newfound obsession with Luna Luna after running across an article about the art park prior to the global shutdown. It’s through his urging that the park was even on DreamCrew’s radar. 

At this point, the remnants of the park were in the ownership of the philanthropic Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation. And, as art attorney Daniel McClean and entrepreneur Justin Wills confirmed to the Los Angeles Times, the Birch Foundation didn’t just want DreamCrew to commit to purchasing the entire collection. They wanted them to do so with only the most cursory of inspections. 

roy lichtenstein poses beside his luna luna pavilion creation

In 2022, an agreement between the Birch Foundation and DreamCrew was reached for a sum of money that wasn’t published. Utilizing their diverse roster of experts with Rosa Lowinger supervising conservation and Joel Searles overseeing assembly, DreamCrew are currently hard at work recreating Luna Luna in a 60,000-square foot warehouse near downtown LA. 

Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy

Despite DreamCrew’s prioritization of accuracy, there will be notable differences between 1987’s incarnation and the resurrected amusement park. This is even hinted at in the attraction’s augmented moniker – Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy. 

For one, the rides will be on display purely to be visually admired. When Luna Luna debuted in Hamburg in 1987, guests were actually invited to ride the rides. But those familiar with the rides have expressed skepticism that the rides would pass through any sort of regulations in 1987, let alone in 2023. Cue disappointed children and even more disappointed influencers. That being said, all of the rides are still perfectly functional and expected to be in full motion when the revised park opens its doors. 

Aspects of Luna Luna will still offer an immersive, interactive experience, such as Salvador Dalí‘s disorienting mirrored dome (Dalídom) and David Hockney’s forested pavilion (Enchanted Tree). However, guests will only be able to experience these immersive elements in timed allotments. 

Then, there are the installations that, due to the degradation of time or other circumstances, just couldn’t be translated from 1987’s park. Wonders including George Baselitz’s Shadow Room, Patrick Raynaud’s Earthquake Avenue, and Günter Brus’s Delyrium are memorialized at the park’s official site. Yet, it seems these attractions will remain exclusive to those 240,000 fortunates who toured the 1987 incarnation. 

Searching for Luna Luna’s History Without Its Lead Visionary

Heller, the guiding light at the front of Luna Luna’s initial creation, is also no longer involved. The eccentric artist was accused of art forgery due to his involvement in the multimedia manipulation of original sketches produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat as part of his work for the original park. The claims of forgery were further amplified when the sculptural piece was offered at The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) for $3 million in 2017. 

Heller has since purchased the piece himself and dismissed the stunt as a “childish prank.” Yet, the wake of the incident has found him distancing himself from the art world. Still, visitors to Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy will have the opportunity to enjoy Heller’s original installations including Dream Station and Wedding Chapel

Another major difference between ‘87’s park and the modern resurrection is the inescapable fact that Luna Luna has not only already happened once but also been misplaced for nearly 40 years. Forgotten Fantasy leans into this colorful history with multimedia presentations and a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring an art-focused amusement park to life. Rounded out by performers to add fluidity between exhibits, it’s not quite an amusement park and not quite an art installation but something in between. 

Artists Involved in Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy

Luna Luna encourages a variety of art styles, though all remain filtered through the amusement park themes. Visitors to the renewed park can expect to see the original pieces created by luminary artists including:

  • Jean Michael Basquiat – Painted ferris wheel with music
  • Joseph Beuys – Text on capital and creativity
  • Arik Brauer – Carousel
  • Salvador Dalí – Dalídom
  • Manfred Deix – Palace of the Winds
  • Sonia Delaunay – Entryway arch
  • Monika GilSing – Wind Images
  • Keith Haring – (1.) Painted carousel (2.) Industrially fabricated tarps
  • André Heller – (1.) Dream Station (2.) Wedding Chapel
  • David Hockney – Enchanted Tree
  • Rebecca Horn – Love Thermometer
  • Roy Lichtenstein – Luna Luna Pavilion
  • Kenny Scharf – (1.) Painted chair swing ride (2.) Surrounding sculptures
  • Daniel Spoerri – Crap Chancellery
  • Jim Whiting – Mechanical Theater

Finding the Artistic Significance of an Amusement Park

Art often speaks for itself and that may be the best way to approach Luna Luna. But at its heart is the childlike wonderment that so many of us have felt in relation to amusement parks. Through this ambitious project, the artists seem to proclaim this fascination as both sacred and profane simultaneously. 

Planned for a December 15 opening, the installation is expected to run through spring 2024. Early bird tickets are currently available at their official site starting at 38 dollars each (47 dollars for weekend visits). The massive installation will take place in a warehouse at 1601 E. 6th Street. We wonder how they’ll fit in all that magic. 

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