Is Luna Luna Worth It?

In 1987 Viennese pop star-turned-artist/impresario André Heller opened Luna Luna, an amusement park of artist-designed rides and attractions in Hamburg, Germany. It lasted one rainy summer, then the park's elements went into storage. They've lately been restored with funds from pop rapper Drake, and a version of the park has been reconstructed inside an industrial space in downtown LA's arts district. It is selling out each weekend and has been criticized for being too expensive. So—

Is Luna Luna worth it?

I was skeptical, on the grounds that these utopian, all-star collaborations rarely result in anyone's best work. But I enjoyed the visual spectacle and found the art more engaging than I'd expected. 

The 1987 Luna Luna featured 28 artists. Only 15 are included in the 2024 incarnation, but that includes most of those that you might want: Basquiat, Beuys, Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Haring, Hockney, Lichtenstein, and Scharf. The only prominent 1987 artists not in the L.A. display are George Baselitz, Jörg Immendorff, and—yes—Erté.

Keith Haring, Carousel, 1987. At upper left is a Wind Image by Monika GilSing
The range of originality, authenticity, and interest is considerable (and your mileage may differ). The Haring carousel and tarp "paintings" were about what you might expect, and no more. In contrast I really enjoyed the Basquiat Ferris wheel. This was phoned in—Basquiat created sketches in his Brooklyn studio that were sent to Germany for others to execute. The wheel's many surfaces nonetheless contain a substantial corpus of original Basquiat designs, worthy of extended contemplation. A Jim Crow theme alludes to the historic segregation of some amusement parks.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ferris Wheel, 1987
David Hockney, Enchanted Tree, 1987
The Hockney Enchanted Tree is an adaptation of a 1981 design he did for the Metropolitan Opera's The Child and the Spells by Maurice Ravel. It's an early example of Hockney's interest in immersive environments. The Lichtenstein pavilion is a 3D version of his "imperfect" paintings (an example is at the Broad), housing a mirror maze.
Roy Lichtenstein, Luna Luna Pavilion, 1987
Joseph Beuys, text on capital and creativity, 1987

I love it that they got Joseph Beuys to participate, but here he's the grumpy uncle who refuses to join the dance. In lieu of a teacup ride or something, he offered a handwritten meditation on Marx.

I enjoyed the lesser-known artists as much as or more than the big names. Some are cartoonists or designers for opera or film rather than artists with a capital A. Luna Luna's ambient soundtrack, by Philip Glass and jazz greats, is another significant element.

Manfred Deix, Palace of the Winds. Photo by @JoeHollywoodLA

Viennese cartoonist Manfred Deix created a cartoon facade for performances, shown on video, of bare butts farting into golden microphones (Palace of the Winds). It appears that Heller conceived the Palace, inspired by Le Petomane, the Moulin Rouge performer who presented flatuence as music. 

Video still from Palace of the Winds
Ill-matched couple in André Heller's Wedding Chapel

Heller's other principal contribution was a marriage chapel where anyone or anything could marry any other consensual entity. In 1987 this was political, given that German (Western) governments did not recognize same-sex marriages. In 2024 LA it remains political, as a Supreme Court ruling could land us back in 1987. Most of the marriages I witnessed were between fathers and their daughters. 

(After) Sonia Delaunay, Entrance Archway
Some of the art is a replica or incomplete. Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) is the oldest/earliest artist in the Luna Luna roster, and interest in her work is perhaps stronger than ever. She agreed to participate in Luna Luna but died before she could create or supervise her entrance arch. The arch you see, separating Luna Luna's two halves, was made posthumously from sketches. 
Salvador Dalí, Dalidom, 1987

Dalí was in his 80s; he gave Heller permission to fabricate an avatar of his Dream of Venus pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair (a true precursor of Luna Luna, albeit with one artist). The exterior evokes Buckminster Fuller more than Surrealism. Other Luna Luna works are still being conserved and are represented with full or partial replicas (such as the Albert Speer-tweaking facade of Daniel Spoerri's Crap Chancellery). 

Daniel Spoerri, Crap Chancellery

There are informative signboards on each artist and the history of their contribution. That's something you don't always get in a museum. The texts are informative even for the well-known artists and indispensable for the German and Austrian artists unfamiliar to Americans. There is a well-done timeline display, a vintage documentary film, and displays on the conservation of Luna Luna's elements. We learn, for instance, that Luna Luna is collaborating with the Lichtenstein estate on devising pigments for conserving the artist's pavilion. The organizers have looked closely at didactic displays in art museums. 

Paints for conservation of Lichtenstein's Luna Luna Pavilion
Kenny Scharf, sculptures for chair swing ride. There wasn't enough roof clearance to display them on top of the ride, as in the 1987 installation

Kenny Scharf, Chair Swing Ride, 1987

Yes, but isn't Luna Luna too expensive?

The New York Times review struck that note, calculating that a family of five could spend as much as $500 on a weekend. It's said that ongoing restoration costs are approaching $100 million, and apparently, Drake wants to make it back.

Maybe the way to look at it is that Luna Luna is more expensive than a museum and less expensive than Disneyland.

The basic weekend admission is $47 for adults and $20 for children (3-13), with discounts for weekdays, seniors, and military personnel. You can add parking ($15) or opt for an $85 Moon Pass, a VIP admission that includes parking, the ability to walk into two attractions (Hockney, Dalí), and a free faux nuptial. 

Interior of Salvador Dalí's Dalidom as seen from outside

Those arriving by car may appreciate the convenience of onsite parking (even though there is free street parking in the general area). It's harder to make a case for the Moon Pass. The interior of the Dalí attraction is essentially a Kusama infinity room (though Dalí was there before Kusama, or Samaras). If you've done the Infinity Room at the Broad, for free, it may not be so essential to spring for it here. You can can glimpse the Dalí space's interior from the outside. 

By my computation, a family of five might pay $169 for weekend admission and parking. A thrifty single able to take public transit on a weekday might spend as little as $30 (or $25 military/senior). Luna Luna is a 16 minute walk from the E line's Pico/Aliso station.

Arik Brauer, Carousel, 1987

It's an amusement park where the rides don't work. Isn't that a drawback?

I don't think so. They didn't reinvent the Ferris wheel—mechanically, the rides are versions of those you'd find at any small carnival. The artistic customizing can be appreciated from the outside. 

Details of Basquiat's Ferris Wheel
Rebecca Horn, Love Thermometer, 2023 exhibition copy of 1987 original. The glass bulb was damaged during the Hamburg showing
Jim Whiting, Mechanical Theater, 1987
Ruinous Haring and Scharf merch, recovered from a storage container
Michael Maltzan, Sixth Street Viaduct (Bridge) from Luna Luna entrance

Now open, Luna Luna is at 1601 E. Sixth St., Los Angeles.


Anonymous said…
meow wolf has roughly same ticket price, and offers a vastly more interesting, interactive and creatively astonishing experience, with, also, really great art by real artists, that you can climb through, touch, play with, sit in and so forth.
ndef said…
Yes, but not in Los Angeles.
JB Buchaillet said…
Luna Luna L.A. is unique show of playful art made by leading international artists, whose art is collected by the world's most reknown museums, and sells at auctions for extraordinary prices (exhibited with mimes & side-show performers, as originally conceived). Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Salvador Dalí, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Sonya Delauney, Kenny Scharf, and other reknown artistic creators. The videos, movies, exhibition notes, and diplays are museum quality. -- The 1987 Luna Luna carnival in Hamburg was a family fun event. This 2024 exhibit captures the spirit of the original and shows restored works by art lost to the publics' eye and memory for 37 years. -- This is only superficially comparable to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, or Denver.
Anonymous said…
It's interesting, but not enough to get around the fact that the people who put this on are dishonest dollar sniffers and nothing more. They have no decorum.