How Curators Took A Forgotten German Art Amusement Park From Texas Shipping Containers To Los Angeles


The theme park Luna Luna was a one-of-a-kind experience, featuring rides, merchandise and attractions designed by some of the world’s most renowned artists of the time: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, and Roy Lichtenstein, to name just a few.

But after its first run in Hamburg, Germany, the park closed, and its attractions were left in shipping containers in Texas.

After a painstaking restoration process, the park has now reopened as the exhibition “Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy,” on display near downtown L.A. until spring 2024.

While none of the rides are operational, the artistry is on full display — and there are still a few exhibits you can interact with just like guests did nearly four decades ago.

What you can see there

The park features all sorts of specially-made attractions: You can see a carousel designed by Keith Haring, or a painted forest designed by David Hockney.

A series of panels containing Keith Haring's distinctive line drawings in pink, orange, and teal flank a carousel with similarly-shaped seats

Keith Haring designed not only the carousel pictured here, but also posters and merchandise for the park that ended up being preserved.

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Courtesy of Jeff McLane

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Some of the rides are repurposed: For instance, Basquiat took a 1920s-era Ferris wheel and remade the ride in his vision.

“Basquiat had drawings put on every single panel,” Luna Luna curatorial director Lumi Tan said. “It’s kind of over a large map of — maybe it’s his brain, but it’s a brain. I think one interpretation is you’re kind of walking into his brain and his thoughts, and you exit out on the backside of the Ferris wheel is a baboon’s butt.”

A small white ferris wheel featuring a drawing of a baboon's butt at the exit is in the foreground of a warehouse space, with other colorful exhibits in the background.

This Ferris wheel was designed by none other than Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Courtesy of Jeff McLane

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And if that sounds a bit childish to you, that was very much the intent of the park’s creator, Austrian artist André Heller.

“He asked every artist as the first question, ‘Do you remember what it was like to be a child?'” Tan said.

While many of the works will draw crowds just for the names of the artists who created them, Tan said some of the most popular attractions have been from artists who are lesser-known in the United States, like Arik Brauer’s non-traditional take on a classic amusement park carousel.

The rides are for display only, but Tan highlighted three attractions that visitors can still interact with.

A green, red and blue cylindrical structure with tree-like shapes painted on is in the foreground. In the background, drawings by Keith Haring and a carousel.

This attraction, designed by David Hockney, is one of the few exhibitions at Luna Luna that visitors are welcome to interact with.

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Courtesy of Jeff McLane

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“You can go inside the David Hockney Enchanted Tree,” Tan said. “You can go inside Salvador Dalí’s Dalí Dome. And you can get married to whomever or whatever you like at André Heller’s Wedding Chapel.”

Luna Luna’s first run

The theme park Luna Luna was the brainchild of Heller, an Austrian multidisciplinary artist who started having conversations with other artists about starting an amusement park in the 1970s.

Having been a singer, actor, writer, and visual artist, Heller wanted to create a full experience when he set out to create Luna Luna. The design of the park incorporated sound and light, and much of the light equipment, cassette players and even merchandise.

In a vintage photograph, a clown-like performer holds a geometrically-arranged bunch of white sticks in front of a spinning amusement park ride full of people.

Luna Luna originally operated for only one summer in 1987 in Hamburg, Germany.

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Courtesy of Sabina Sarnitz

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But after its first run in the summer of 1987, the ownership of the park changed hands, and all the meticulously-designed parts of the park got packed up and put in storage.

How it was reassembled

The path to the modern-day exhibition started in January 2022, when a group of four partners came together to purchase the shipping containers with the long-lost park inside.

“They really didn’t know what was inside in terms of, was it just part of the park? Was it the entire park?” Tan said. “They didn’t know the condition.”

The buyers were pleasantly surprised to find out that more or less the entire amusement park was packed into the containers.

“All these rides and attractions were in this miraculously great condition for having just been locked away in these storage containers for 35 years,” Tan said.

A mostly-assembled carousel features several fantastical and colorful seats, including a hand making a finger gun shape that has hooves attached.

Arik Brauer’s carousel, shown here in a partial state of assembly, was one of many rides that needed to be rebuilt before Luna Luna opened.

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Courtesy of Luna Luna, LLC

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And since these rides were well-loved in the summer of 1987, the restoration team didn’t want to make it look like no one had ever touched them.

“One detail that people always bring up is that it was an incredibly rainy summer in Hamburg, so there was a lot of wear and tear on all of this,” Tan said.

But in order to reassemble the park, the restoration team had to find out which pieces corresponded to which ride, with the help of architectural drawings that were also found in storage. Tan called it “a giant puzzle.”

“There was no key to what these codes meant, which parts belong to which ride,” she said. “And so it was really the enormous efforts of our incredible studio team to figure out that puzzle and put them all, you know, back together.”

And while this work was not created for a museum, Tan hopes that visitors can still tap into the spirit of the long-forgotten amusement park by visiting.

“I think it’s ultimately just universally resonant,” Tan said. “So many of these artists’ practices — they really want to, A, connect back to this childhood wonder, but B, connect to these mass audiences to merge art and life in this way that let’s say showing your work in just a museum or a gallery can’t necessarily accomplish.”

How to visit Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy

  • Where: Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy is located at 1601 East 6th Street in Los Angeles, just east of downtown.

  • When: The exhibition is open from now until spring 2024.

  • How much: Tickets cost $38 on weekends and $47 on weekends, though there are discounts for seniors, veterans and kids. On-site parking is $15. For more information, see https://lunaluna.com/ticketing/.

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