CHRIS BURDEN. Photo by Josh White
Chris Burden Bibliography (99 Kb)
“Limits” is a relative term. Like beauty, it is often in the eye of the beholder.
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.
Burden's paean to civic life Urban Light, comprising 202 restored antique streetlights, was permanently installed at the entry plaza of the LA County Museum of Art in 2008. The related work, Light of Reason, a permanent commission by Brandeis University, was inaugurated in 2014.
In celebration of Burden's life, LACMA presented his last and recently completed monumental performance sculpture Ode to Santos Dumont in the Resnick Pavilion earlier this year.
Chris Burden was born in 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts, and died in Topanga, California in 2015. He received his BFA from Pomona College in Claremont, California and his MFA from the University of California at Irvine. Burden has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including “Chris Burden: A Twenty Year Survey,” Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (1988); “When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory,” Tate Gallery, London (1999); “Tower of Power,” Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna (2002); “Chris Burden,” Baltic Center of Contemporary Art, New Castle, UK (2002); “14 Magnolia Doubles,” South London Gallery, London (2006); “What My Dad Gave Me,” a project of the Public Art Fund at Rockefeller Center, New York (2008); “Chris Burden: The Master Builder,” The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (2014); and “Chris Burden: Ode to Santos Dumont,” LACMA, Los Angeles (2015). In 2013–14, the New Museum presented “Extreme Measures,” which would be the last retrospective during his lifetime.
His work is featured in major museum collections worldwide including LACMA and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York; MCA Chicago; Tate Gallery, London; Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium; Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, Brazil; and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.