An artist-designed amusement park whose attractions include a merry-go-round by Keith Haring and a chair swing ride by Kenny Scharf seems like an awfully big thing to slip through the cracks. But Luna Luna, which welcomed 240,000 guests during its single-summer run in Hamburg in 1987, did exactly that. The park, which featured contributions by more than 30 artists from the US and Europe (notably spanning the Berlin Wall), was hailed by Life magazine as both mind-elevating and jaw-dropping. Yet beset by financial and legal woes, it languished in obscurity for more than three decades before it was revisited, restored and, ultimately, revived. Now located in a 60,000 sq ft warehouse complex in eastern Los Angeles, Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy is open for business (general admission starts at $30; $47 on weekends).

The showcase opened in December and will be on view until May. Part abandoned park, part blockbuster exhibition, it features about half of the original attractions. None of them can be ridden due to conservation and safety concerns though they are periodically activated. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Ferris wheel, whose painted designs underscore that amusement parks were historically segregated in the US, makes its gleaming revolutions to the sounds of Miles Davis’s Tutu. Arik Brauer’s carousel likewise whirls, its surreal menagerie animated by Timna Brauer’s music. David Hockney’s immersive Enchanted Tree pavilion springs to life with dappled light shows set to waltzes by Johann and Josef Strauss.

A vibrant merry-go-round decorated with lights and colourful monsters stands in the centre of a field at night
Luna Luna in 1987, taken from the book ‘Luna Luna: The Art Amusement Park’ (2023) by André Heller, published by Phaidon © Michael Probst/dpa. Courtesy Phaidon
A Ferris wheel stands in the centre of a vertical night shot, covered in stylised graffiti of human figures
‘Painted Ferris wheel for Luna Luna’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat, taken from ‘Luna Luna’. The music for the Ferris wheel was provided by Miles Davis © Courtesy Phaidon. Photo: Sabina Sarnitz

Ample didactic materials and archival ephemera give the presentation warmth and depth, inviting visitors who might view Forgotten Fantasy as a mere Instagram backdrop to reconsider. Salvador Dalí’s colour-coded instructions for his mirrored dome, Dalídom, draw attention to the labours of reassembly and restoration, while displays of archival photographs by Sabina Sarnitz, who documented Luna Luna’s development and realisation, flesh out early experiences of the park, an important area of inquiry for those working on the project today.

“When the park opened, I met someone who told me that for decades she couldn’t remember whether Luna Luna was real or a dream,” says New York creative director Michael Goldberg, the project’s founding partner and chief experience officer. “She had gone as a kid, but they hadn’t brought a camera.”

Bridging the “luna park”, like the Prater amusement park in Vienna, and the international art show, like Documenta in Kassel, Luna Luna was the brainchild of André Heller, a Viennese artist who insisted that amusement park rides had always been “revolving sculptures” and “theatrical machines”. In 1985, Heller secured a $350,000 grant from the German magazine Neue Revue to fund the fantasy he had been nursing for a decade.

A middle-aged man wearing a long grey coat and chequered trousers stands on a carousel decorated with stylised human figures
André Heller on Keith Haring’s carousel © Werner Baum/dpa

Artists whom Heller approached to participate shared his interest in blurring the boundaries between art and life. Sonia Delaunay, who designed (but did not execute) the large archway painted with colourful abstractions that welcomes viewers to the park, had worked with clothing and automobiles; Daniel Spoerri, who contributed Crap Chancellery — a sardonic restroom facade modelled on Nazi architecture, complete with fecal sculptures on pillars — had made a name for himself with his experimental art restaurant.

“Many contemporary artists today are interested in working outside of gallery and museum contexts and accessing a wider audience. Luna Luna was very prescient that way,” says curatorial director Lumi Tan, formerly a curator at the New York experimental arts space The Kitchen.

In 1990, after his plans to sell Luna Luna to the city of Vienna or tour it through Europe fell through, Heller sold it to the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation. Bureaucratic roadblocks and drawn-out legal disputes stymied the philanthropic organisation’s own designs to show the park. In 2019, Goldberg learned about Luna Luna from a post on the blog Minnie Muse (run by socialite Colby Mugrabi, wife of art collector Alberto Mugrabi); at that point, Luna Luna was collecting dust in shipping containers in rural Texas, where it was transported in 2007.

A young man dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans decorates the top of a yellow carousel with purple paint
Keith Haring works on his carousel, taken from the book ‘Luna Luna’ © Courtesy Phaidon. Photo: Sabina Sarnitz
A performer dressed in a crescent moon-shaped costume stands before a geometric wall surrounded by people
Performer in front of Roy Lichtenstein’s pavilion © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein; photo: Sabrina Sarnitz; courtesy Luna Luna

Goldberg was fascinated, and all the more intrigued because no one he spoke with had heard of the park. He reached out to Heller about a possible revival, subsequently partnering with Daniel McClean, Justin Wills and DreamCrew, the production company of musician (and art collector) Drake. Heller, who was recently involved in controversy for forging a Basquiat frame, which was sold for a large sum before Heller bought it back, as a “prank”, has stepped away from the project.

“I wish we were able to do as much as Heller was able to do with $350,000,” Goldberg says with a laugh. Investment in Luna Luna is reportedly in the ballpark of $100mn, with DreamCrew as the majority stakeholder. Meanwhile, Joseph Beuys’ contribution to the park (like Delaunay, he died before it opened) is a scrawled panel professing his Marxist-inflected conviction that ability, not money, constituted capital.

Nonetheless, Luna Luna artists designed merchandise; T-shirts conceived by Haring and Roy Lichtenstein are on display. Ostensibly in this spirit, Luna Luna is releasing a capsule collection of lunar-themed designs by local artists Mario Ayala, Alfonso Gonzalez Jr and Sonya Sombreuil, set to coincide with Frieze Week in LA. The launch will be accompanied by a celebration with an artist-curated DJ line-up on February 29.

An aerial view of an amusement park at dusk shows visitors queuing in front of different attractions
The original Luna Luna park in Vienna cost $350,000 © Michael Probst/dpa

Contemporary artists are slated to play an even bigger role in the park’s future. The curatorial team has commissioned a new crop of artists to create their own attractions for the park. While details are yet to be announced, the new rides will be operational, recreating the park’s original emphasis on sensorial, embodied experience. With these commissions under way, Luna Luna is also working with Live Nation — which recently partnered with Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience — on organising a tour, with international aspirations. All the while, restoration of the original attractions is ongoing in what Tan calls a “very long-term project”.

“We’re not afraid to show a missing panel or paint chips,” she says. “These things make the patina of the works really special, reflecting that they were used by hundreds of thousands of people, endured a very rainy summer and spent decades in shipping containers — that they are functional objects that have survived history.”

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