Chris Burden. Photo by Josh White
Chris Burden was the first artist represented by Larry Gagosian, from 1978 until the present day. An artist's artist, he was a radical and uncompromising figure with a fierce political consciousness. He ceaselessly probed the physical and conceptual limits of art to reflect on the surreal and precarious realities of contemporary life, first in performance, then in large–scale sculptures that are ludic, awe–inspiring, and deeply engaging.
Burden’s early work was ephemeral, overturning preconceptions about the status of a work of art while addressing political, social, environmental and technological change. In shockingly simple, visceral performances, he shook the conventional art world and took the new art form to as–yet unparalleled extremes. Images of this young artist continue to resonate today: having himself shot (Shoot, 1971), locked up (Five Day Locker Piece, 1971), electrocuted (Doorway to Heaven, 1973), cut (Through the Night Softly, 1973), crucified (Trans–fixed, 1974), and advertised on television (4 TV Ads, 1937–77). In later years, Burden channeled the daring spirit of these early life–threatening performances into sculptures that embody technical feats on an imposing scale. Toys (figurines, train sets, Erector parts) became the building blocks for expansive scale models, cities, and battlefields, while actual vehicles (ships, trucks, and cars) were suspended or set in motion in surreal and improbable ways. Monumental sculptures and installations such as B–Car (1975), The Big Wheel (1979), A Tale of Two Cities (1981), Beam Drop (1984, 2008), Samson (1985), Medusa’s Head (1990), L.A.P.D. Uniforms (1993), and Metropolis II (2010), reflect on urban society and cultural institutions, as well as examining the limits of science and technology.
Chris Burden was born in 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts, and died in 2015 in Topanga, California. He received his B.F.A. in 1969 from Pomona College, California, and his M.F.A. in 1971 from the University of California, Irvine. Burden has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including “A Tale of Two Cities,” Orange County Museum of Art, California (2000); “Tower of Power,” Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna (2002); The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, England (2002); “What My Dad Gave Me,” Rockefeller Center, New York (2008); Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum, Antwerp (2009); “Three Ghost Ships,” Portland Art Museum, Oregon (2011); “Metropolis II,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012); “Small Skyscraper,” Armory Center for the Arts and One Colorado, California (2012); “Extreme Measures,” New Museum, New York (2013); “The Master Builder,” Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Massachusetts (2014); and “Ode to Santos Dumont,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2015).
Burden’s work is featured in major museum collections worldwide, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Tate Gallery, London; Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum, Antwerp; Inhotim-Centro de Arte Contemporanea, Brazil; and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan.