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Rapper Drake breathes new life into Luna Luna – a carnival of great artists

Keith Haring’s carousel,
Keith Haring’s carousel, as it stood at Luna Luna in 1987 - SABINA SARNITZ/SABINA SARNITZ/LUNA LUNA LLC

An art theme park featuring a mirrored funhouse by Salvador Dali and an enchanted forest by David Hockney is set to reopen after almost four decades with the backing of a superstar rapper.

Canadian hip-hop artist Drake’s company DreamCrew has invested the majority of an estimated $100 million (£79 million) into Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy, which is set to open in Los Angeles this month.

The immersive exhibition will resurrect a 1987 Hamburg fairground with creations handcrafted by some of the world’s biggest artists. The art relics, which include a glass labyrinth by Roy Lichtenstein, a ferris wheel by Jean-Michel Basquiat and a Keith Haring-designed merry-go-round with seats shaped like cartoon characters, have for years been languishing in shipping containers in the Texas desert.

In 2022, DreamCrew bought the entire collection for an undisclosed sum. It was then packaged up and shipped to California.

While some of the attractions, such as Hockney’s forest and Dali’s dome, are expected to be open to visitors, rides such as Basquiat’s ferris wheel are likely to be operating but will not be safe for guests to ride on.

“When I first heard about Luna Luna I was blown away,” Drake said in a statement to The New York Times.

“It’s such a unique and special way to experience art. This is a big idea and an opportunity that centres around what we love most: bringing people together.”

Austrian artist André Heller, 76, created Luna Luna in the 1980s with the investment of a German magazine. After securing the funding, he visited his dream list of artists to convince them to play a part in the creation.

Dream list of artists

Many of the works were made in Europe using vintage carnival equipment and hundreds of workers from the Viennese opera and theatre community.

It is estimated around 250,000 people visited the fairground in 1987. Mr Heller had hoped Luna Luna would then tour the world but his plans fell apart. Three years later he agreed to sell the whole project for around $6 million to the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation, who had hoped to show it in San Diego.

Because of complications, the plans were never executed and Luna Luna was moved to rural Texas in 2007, where it was left untouched for another 15 years.

Creative director Michael Goldberg first discovered Luna Luna in 2019 and became obsessed with the project during the Covid pandemic. He then pitched the idea to Drake and his team. “Within a 30-second conversation of ‘this existed’, we were all in,” Mr Gonzales said.

Rapper Drake
Canadian rapper Drake described Luna Luna as a unique and special way to experience art - OLLIE MILLINGTON/WIREIMAGE

Adel Nur, Drake’s manager, said the rapper “got it the fastest”. He added: “He buys what he likes in terms of art and has homes around the world place those pieces in. He’s always had an eye for great things and he’s a big thinker. He sees something like this and his brain activates right away.”

Mr Goldberg floated Drake’s involvement with Mr Heller’s son, Ferdinand, who told his father to seriously consider the proposal. Mr Heller began researching Drake by “listening to his music, watching his attitudes” and decided to press ahead with the idea.

“Drake’s done everything at the highest level,” Anthony Gonzales, chief executive of Luna Luna and a partner in Drake’s DreamCrew, said, “and scale is something that he does better than anybody.

“This is a massive undertaking with huge logistical aspects, tons of moving parts. But it doesn’t seem overwhelming in my mind in any way whatsoever. It’s just like, ‘Let’s go and execute it.’”

Magic of childhood

Luna Luna was “special” to Keith Haring, who died in 1990 at the age of 31, Gil Vazquez, president of the Keith Haring Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times. “Reflecting on his own memories of times at amusement parks I’m sure brought back the magic of childhood that resonated deeply with him.”

Basquiat’s sister, Lisane, said: “Jean-Michel loved play and fun … he enjoyed amusement parks and experienced them frequently as a child growing up in New York and, specifically, Brooklyn. Amusement parks were completely on brand for him, albeit an unusual place for him and his friends to collaborate.”

Mr Heller will no longer be involved himself after the Australian magazine Falter linked the curator to cutting up Basquiat drawings to create a frame that was later presented for sale as an original. Mr Heller said it was a childish prank but decided he could not remain hands-on with the project.

The process of creating Luna Luna is being made into a documentary. The exhibition is expected to run until spring 2024.

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