"Critical Assembly" Exhibition Opens

"Critical Assembly" Exhibition Opens

"Bottom Half of the Disassembled Physics Package of the Trinity Device" by Jim Sanborn

A magnificent exhibition, “Critical Assembly, the Secrets of Los Alamos 1944: An Installation by Jim Sanborn,” recently opened at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The exhibition first opened in 2003 in Washington, DC at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and has traveled to South Korea and Ireland. Sanborn is a world-renowned sculptor. His most famous sculpture is Kryptos on display at the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.

"Critical Assembly” recreates the Manhattan Project scientists’ experiments at Los Alamos to determine when plutonium would go “critical” in an atomic bomb. Artist Jim Sanborn spent ten years investigating the Manhattan Project and collecting artifacts from the Black Hole in Los Alamos and many other sources.

The exhibition represents various experimental assemblies made from a combination of authentic electronic equipment, gadgetry and absolutely exquisite components crafted by Sanborn.  The overall effect is striking.

Period lamps with green metal shades hang from the ceiling dramatically lighting the assemblies and long black cables snake along the cement floor. The pieces at the core of the assembly are stunningly beautiful, made of gold- and silver-plated brass, aluminum and stainless steel. The exhibit’s catalogue is titled, “Atomic Time: Pure Science and Seduction," which captures the notion of the promises and perils of the atomic age.

In 2015, Sanborn approached AHF President Cindy Kelly to help him find a permanent home for the exhibition. Kelly worked with Sanborn, Jim Walther, Executive Director at the Museum, and philanthropist Clay K. Perkins to facilitate an agreement. Perkins generously paid for the exhibition to be shipped to Albuquerque and sponsored the exhibition at the Museum, along with Lockheed Martin/Sandia National Laboratories.

On February 3, 2017, the Museum hosted a ceremony for the opening of “Critical Assembly.” Sanborn and Perkins cut the red ribbon together, and Museum supporters exclaimed over the artifacts and artwork. Attendees included Kris Kirby, superintendent of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park; Heather McClenahan, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Historical Society; Hal Behl, Manhattan Project veteran and retired aeronautical engineer; Cindy Kelly and Alexandra Levy, AHF; and many others.

Just before the opening, AHF recorded an interview with Sanborn discussing what inspired him to develop “Critical Assembly” and what he hopes the impact of the installation will be on audiences. AHF will publish the interview on the “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website this summer.

“Critical Assembly” will be on display from February 4 through October 15, 2017, and eventually be a permanent exhibit at the Museum. For more about the exhibition, please visit the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History website and the Albuquerque Journal article on the exhibition, Sculptor’s exhibition focuses on secret work of Manhattan Project. You can view photos of the exhibition taken by Alexandra Levy in the gallery below.