Last year, the multi-media artist André Heller stood face-to-face with a long-abandoned project that had sat collecting dust in the Texas desert. Forty-four weathered crates held monumental creations by some of the world’s most famous artists. They hadn’t been opened in 35 years.

The crates contained bits and pieces of Luna Luna, the first amusement park meets contemporary-art installation in history, which opened in Hamburg in the summer of 1987. The Ferris wheel was designed by Jean-Michel Basquiat; the merry-go-round, by Keith Haring. David Hockney provided an enchanted tree, and the mirrored dome was the brainchild of Salvador Dalí. Two hundred artisans worked on the project.

Amusement parks captured Heller’s imagination in childhood. He was born in 1947, and grew up in dreary bombed-out Vienna. Back then, it was small things that made life worth living: Oskar Kokoschka’s sets for the Burgtheater, Lent processions in the labyrinths of the former imperial park, and the newly cast bell of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. As a six-year-old, Heller sang songs from The Magic Flute at night instead of saying his prayers.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he made a name for himself with acting stints, songs, poems, and surreal miniature dramas. Heller released his first book, Die Ernte der Schlaflosigkeit in Wien (The Harvest of Insomnia in Vienna), in 1975. But he soon set his sights on a more inclusive project modeled after Vienna’s Prater park, one that would “build a big bridge between the so-called avant-garde,” he wrote, “and the so-called normal people.”

Heller met with the French artist Sonia Delaunay in 1976, at her studio in Paris, and convinced her to design an entryway for Luna Luna. In 1985, he got hold of a $350,000 grant from Neue Revue magazine and set about pressuring others. Kenny Scharf, Patrick Raynard, and Georg Baselitz joined the team. Roy Lichtenstein connected him with Hockney. Andy Warhol passed him on to Basquiat.

After a successful opening, Heller’s plans for a European tour flopped unceremoniously. The 30 pavilions, along with permits and transportation, were a logistical nightmare. Heller sold Luna Luna to the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation for $6 million, and subsequent litigation resulted in the rides’ being put into storage. Though Luna Luna was supposed to be Heller’s definitive work, it quickly vanished.

With help from the rapper Drake and countless teams of lawyers, museums, and curators, the park is set to make its grand reopening next year; it will then embark on a global tour. Ahead of the occasion, and with an updated preface by Heller, a translated and revised version of the book Luna Luna: The Art Amusement Park, from 1987, chronicles the project’s history. The photographs are by Sabina Sarnitz, who meticulously documented the creation of the park from October 1985 to June 1987. You’ll have to see it to believe it. —Elena Clavarino

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL