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Sculptor’s exhibition focuses on secret work of Manhattan Project

 "Device of Measuring the Neutron Flux of a Uranium Core" is part of the "Critical Assembly" exhibit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Device of Measuring the Neutron Flux of a Uranium Core” is part of the “Critical Assembly” exhibit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Jim Sanborn is enjoying his time in New Mexico.

“I’m taking a hike at the Petroglyph National Monument,” he says during a recent phone interview.

The world-renowned artist was in the Duke City for the opening of his latest exhibit, “Critical Assembly, the Secrets of Los Alamos 1944: An Installation by Jim Sanborn” at The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

The exhibit invites visitors to explore and study the artist’s rendering of the supersecret experiments from the Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb program.

Sanborn is a world-renowned sculptor best-known for creating the encrypted “Kryptos” sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

“Critical Assembly” is a tableau based on the laboratory environment for the assembly of the first atomic bomb and is gleaned from many scholarly and eyewitness accounts of the appearance of the Manhattan Project laboratories as they existed from 1943 to 1945.

This “Critical Assembly” installation includes original electronic instruments, hardware, furniture, tools and materials used by Los Alamos National Laboratory during the 1940s.

These objects were acquired by Sanborn during a six-year period from a variety of sources, including former laboratory employees.

Any materials Sanborn was unable to collect in Los Alamos, he machined and fabricated himself.

“I’ve been fascinated with this time in history,” he says. “I searched around to hear stories or find artifacts from the area.”

“Critical Assembly” has previously been on display at such institutions as the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Gwangju Biennale in South Korea and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, Ireland.

And now the installation has a permanent home in the Duke City.

And it’s in part to sponsorships by Lockheed Martin/Sandia National Laboratories and Dorothy and Clay Kemper Perkins.

Jim Walther, museum director, says it took about a year to get the funding for the installation.

“It is truly an honor to display such a monumental exhibition created by the illustrious sculptor Jim Sanborn,” Walther says. “His work, from the ‘Kryptos’ sculpture located at CIA headquarters to the amazing ‘Critical Assembly’ exhibit now on display at our museum, shows an innovative and intricate mind that will most definitely leave a lasting impression on our world for years to come.”

And the history between Sanborn and Walther goes back a few decades.

The two met when Walther was a recent college graduate, nearly 30 years ago.

“He was working with the 1 percent for arts and I began to work with him,” he says. “We maintained a friendship, and when the time came for this, he remembered me. It’s really fascinating to have this exhibit become part of our permanent collection.”