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Jeff Koons' 'Train' nowhere near its final destination, or even a start date

November 24, 2009 |  1:56 pm

Train When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced plans in 2007 to build Jeff Koons' massive, multimillion-dollar "Train," the news quickly polarized the art community. Some said it would be a monumental and important work of art for L.A. Others decried it as a potential eyesore and a money pit.

Nearly three years on, "Train" appears to be nowhere near completion -- or even a start date for construction. LACMA told The Times that the project is still somewhere between the feasibility and design phases, and that the public won't see the finished artwork until 2014.

"Train" was initially scheduled to be completed in 2011 or 2012. Designs for the quasi-sculpture call for an approximately 70-foot replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900-series steam locomotive, suspended vertically from a 161-foot-tall construction crane.

"Train" has a rumored price tag of $25 million, but the museum declined to disclose figures except to say that it is budgeted in the "many millions" of dollars. If the rumored cost is true, "Train" would be among the most expensive pieces of art ever commissioned by a museum.

John Bowsher, the museum's director of special art installations, said the next phases for "Train" involve two mock-ups: one involving a full-scale steam component that will test the size of the steam plume, and another dealing with the nose of the train engine that will use real materials to determine how easy it will be to meet the artist's standards.

Neither mock-up has begun yet, according to Bowsher. He also said that there is no start date for the construction of the project.

The museum said it has completed an imaging process that involves taking digital scans of an actual 1943 machine so that the new parts can be manufactured. However, it will take several additional months to put the digital scans together into an overall picture.

So far, the museum has a "small circle of people" working on the project in various capacities, according to Bowsher. It is also partnering with Carlson & Co., a local firm that has worked with Koons on previous projects.

LACMA said that Koons' original conception for "Train" has not changed since it was first announced. The project's feasibility study is being at least partially funded by a $2-million grant from the Annenberg Foundation.

Last week, The Times reported that the museum's investments dropped 23% in the last fiscal year. Donations to the museum also fell from $129.7 million to $29 million.

On Monday, a report from Bloomberg stated that "Train" could be canceled altogether if the museum doesn’t find the necessary funding. The LACMA spokesman did not confirm or deny that assertion. 

Currently, the museum has other projects competing for fund-raising attention, including LACMA West, a 70-year-old part of the campus that is being renovated as part of the museum's multi-year upgrading of its facilities.

-- David Ng

Photo: A design for Jeff Koons' proposed "Train." Credit: Jeff Koons Production Inc. / LACMA

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