Avant Garde Art: The Ride
Luna Luna “art amusement park” reopens–thanks to Drake
Happy New Year to all! About Theme Parks will not publish this coming Tuesday. I’ll resume my previews of 2004 parks and attractions next Thursday.
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A few years ago, Martin Scorcese derisively compared Marvel movies to theme parks. Fans of the MCU didn’t take too kindly to his cutting remark. But it pissed me off for a different reason. Implicit in his dismissive barb was that parks and attractions are inherently lowbrow and not worthy of being considered “art.”
The world building at places like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Pandora – The World of Avatar is stunning to behold and actively experience. With a multimedia pastiche of color, texture, light, sound, flora, and other tools in their palette, attraction designers create living, dimensional spaces such as these. So yeah Marty, it’s art, and you’re full of raging bull.
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When Walt Disney was developing Disneyland, he enlisted many of his studios’ animators to bring their sense of art and filmmaking to the new kind of park he envisioned. More recently, groups such as Meow Wolf and Wink World have blurred the line between conventional art museums and attractions. But did you know that there was an actual amusement park with rides, games, and installations designed by celebrated artists? Luna Luna, the “world’s first and only art amusement park,” opened in 1987 in Germany and closed shortly thereafter. But following a 36-year hiatus, with the intervention and financial backing of rapper and singer Drake, Luna Luna is again delighting guests, this time in Los Angeles.
The indoor Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy brings back many of the attractions from the original park, including a painted Ferris wheel developed by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a carousel adorned with Keith Haring’s distinctive artwork, a walk-through Enchanted Tree experience designed by David Hockney, and Dalídom, a mirrored funhouse inside a geodesic dome crafted by Salvador Dalí. In all, there are 15 artist-curated experiences at Luna Luna. Unfortunately, while there are working rides, guests aren’t allowed to board them as they were when they first debuted in Europe. Some of the walk-through attractions are accessible, however.
The original Luna Luna was the brainchild of André Heller, an outré artist from Austria. He cajoled and assembled some of the world’s most noted artists to put their creative spin on spinning rides and other attractions. The park’s name paid homage to Luna Park at Coney Island, one of the earliest amusement parks. The New York landmark was so popular, operators around the world borrowed the name and called their places Luna Park as well. To this day, there are 90 parks that still bear the name, including one at Coney Island, which resurrected it for a new Luna Park in 2010.
After its run in Germany, Luna Luna was supposed to head to San Diego and other places, but legal complications prevented it from touring. The rides and artifacts were locked away in a Texas warehouse and largely forgotten. In 2022, an investment group and management company headed by Drake, spent a reported $100 million to revive the unique park.
“When I first heard about Luna Luna, I was blown away,” the Canadian musician and art enthusiast said in a statement. “It’s such a unique and special way to experience art. This is a big idea and opportunity that centers around what we love most: bringing people together.”
While there are some rides one might expect to find on a Six Flags midway, albeit embellished with creative flourishes, Luna Luna offers some truly singular experiences. Take Palace of the Winds, for example. Created by the late artist Manfred Deix, its facade features grotesque cartoons of exposed derrieres and people holding their noses. At the original attraction, guests would enter a theater in which performers farted into microphones accompanied by live musicians playing classical music. (The questionable content notwithstanding, how did they find people who could toot on demand?) In its current form, guests can hear a recording of the cacophony and watch a video of a 1987 Palace of the Winds “performance.”
Then there is Luna Luna Pavilion, a mirror maze covered in bold, colorful panels painted by the late pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein. While trying to make their way through the labyrinth, guests hear music composed by Philip Glass.
Granted, it’s not Disneyland. And Luna Luna is a decidedly peculiar interpretation of parks and attractions. But, despite what Scorcese may think, it deftly demonstrates the art that is at the core of parks as well as their broad appeal and cultural impact.
Would you want to visit Luna Luna if it came to your town? Are theme parks art?