“Limits” is a relative term. Like beauty, it is often in the eye of the beholder.
From his action-based works of the 1970s to the jaw-dropping technical feats of his later sculptures, Chris Burden (1946–2015) consistently challenged his mental and physical limitations, reflecting on the surreal and precarious realities of contemporary life. Burden was a radical and uncompromising figure with a fierce political consciousness.
Burden earned his MFA in 1971 from the University of California, Irvine, where he studied under the conceptual artist Robert Irwin. Like Irwin—whose site-specific architectural interventions consider the effects of space and light on the viewer—Burden was interested in the staging of spectacle and the ways in which art could complicate one’s understanding of the material world. In his early performances Burden responded to the violent realities of the Vietnam War by putting his body at risk. For Five Day Locker Piece (1971), he locked himself into a school locker, drinking water from a five-gallon bottle stored in the locker above and urinating into a five-gallon bottle in the locker below. That same year, for Shoot, Burden’s friend shot him in the left arm from a distance of fifteen feet. The piece, which lasted only about eight seconds, was recorded on Super-8 film.
In the late 1970s Burden turned to monumental sculpture, considering how the scale and placement of public infrastructure could be manipulated in order to explore the implications of power, speed, and balance. In 1979 he created The Big Wheel, a kinetic work composed of a 1968 Benelli motorcycle placed on a wooden frame and attached to a nineteenth-century metal flywheel. When the bike is mounted and revved, the flywheel is set into motion.
This industrial thrill continued in the 1980s and 1990s with Beam Drop (1984/2008)—a work that involved dropping I beams from a crane into a large pit of wet concrete—and Medusa’s Head (1990), an amorphous mass of wood, steel, cement, rock, and model railroad trains and tracks, evocative of a country-sized chunk of earth that has been extracted and squished into a ball. Beam Drop was re-created in 2008 at the Inhotim Institute in Brazil, where its final, sculptural product is now permanently installed, while Medusa’s Head is held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In 2000 Burden began collecting street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s, once used in residential neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and repurposing them as sculptural installations. This led to his celebrated permanent installation Urban Light (2008), comprising 202 lampposts, at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Starting in 2003, Burden also constructed large-scale models of bridges—both real and imagined—with thousands of toy construction parts. Tower of London Bridge (2003) mimics every aspect of the famous bridge’s suspension design, including the functional drawbridge, and Three Arch Dry Stack Bridge, 1/4 Scale (2013)—first exhibited in Extreme Measures (2013–14), a major survey of Burden’s work at the New Museum in New York—comprises three elegant arches made of hand-cast concrete blocks held together by gravity.
Burden’s last completed work, Ode to Santos Dumont (2015), is a kinetic airship modeled after Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 1901 dirigible that flew around the Eiffel Tower. Built over a ten-year period, it achieves indoor flight in fifteen-minute intervals and simultaneously embodies both ambitions of industrial invention and reveries of childhood marvels. The first artist to be represented by Larry Gagosian, beginning in 1978.
September 29, 2018–January 26, 2019
Britannia Street, London
January 19–February 20, 2016
Park & 75, New York
Extended through March 12, 2016
January 19–March 12, 2016
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Extended through September 19, 2015
April 25–September 19, 2015
The Heart: Open or Closed
February 13–March 27, 2010
One Ton One Kilo
March 7–April 4, 2009
June 1–August 3, 2007
January 20–February 28, 2004
555 West 24th Street, New York
Gagosian Quarterly Films
Chris Burden: Big Wrench
From January 23 to February 21, 2019, Gagosian Quarterly presented a special online screening of Chris Burden’s 1980 video Big Wrench.
Sydney Stutterheim looks at the brief but feverish obsession behind this 1980 video by Chris Burden.
Deluxe Photo Book
Sydney Stutterheim discusses Chris Burden’s Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73 on the occasion of its inclusion in About Photography at Gagosian San Francisco.
Urban Light: A Ten Year Anniversary
Ten years ago LACMA premiered Chris Burden’s Urban Light, which has since become an iconic landmark for the city of Los Angeles. To celebrate the anniversary, we look back to 2008 with a conversation between Chris Burden and Michael Govan, director of LACMA.
The story behind Chris Burden’s Buddha’s Fingers (2014–15) and its connection to all of his streetlamp installations. Text by Sydney Stutterheim.
Burden’s Airship Takes Flight
Sydney Stutterheim investigates Chris Burden’s Ode to Santos-Dumont (2015) as the work takes flight during Art Basel Unlimited 2017.
Thursday, March 5, 2020, 6:30pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian for a tour of the group exhibition American Pastoral. The show juxtaposes modern and contemporary works with historical American landscapes ranging from Albert Bierstadt’s depiction of the sublime in Sunset over the River (1877) to Edward Hopper’s tranquil seaside scene, Gloucester Harbor (1926). Gagosian’s Alice Godwin will focus on a select grouping of exhibited works that seek to challenge the idealized vision of the American Dream that has long been a rich topic of inquiry for artists in the United States. To attend the free event, RSVP to email@example.com. Space is limited.
Installation view, American Pastoral, Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, January 23–March 14, 2020. Artwork, left to right: © Theaster Gates, © Adam McEwen, Thomas Moran, © Richard Prince, © Banks Violette, © Ed Ruscha. Photo: Lucy Dawkins
Online Viewing Room
Frieze Los Angeles 2020
February 10–19, 2020
Gagosian will launch its latest Online Viewing Room on the occasion of Frieze Los Angeles, with available works by Chris Burden, Alex Israel & Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Jenney, Albert Oehlen, Chris Ofili, David Reed, Ed Ruscha, Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri, Tatiana Trouvé, and Jonas Wood. Many of the artworks included in this virtual presentation consider the political, geographical, and social landscapes of Los Angeles.
The Frieze Los Angeles 2020 Online Viewing Room will open at 12:00am on Monday, February 10, in Hong Kong, and close at 11:59pm on Wednesday, February 19, in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
For more information about the Online Viewing Room or the work to be featured, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Burden, L.A.P.D. Uniform, 1993 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Extreme Present
Opening reception: Tuesday, December 3, 5–8pm
December 4–8, 2019
Moore Building, Miami
Gagosian is pleased to announce The Extreme Present, the fifth in a series of annual exhibitions at the Moore Building in the Miami Design District during Art Basel Miami Beach, presented by Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch. The Extreme Present will explore artists’ reactions to the conditions of our accelerating and increasingly complex world. The title is inspired by The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, a book by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, published in 2015. Their provocative thesis addresses the rapidly evolving digital era, half a century after Marshall McLuhan’s groundbreaking study on technology’s influence on culture, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in which he coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” Works in this exhibition explore concepts of media, communication, togetherness, and isolation.
The Extreme Present
Chris Burden in
Where We Now Stand: In Order to Map the Future 
Through April 12, 2020
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan
This exhibition reinterprets work from the museum’s collection to examine the world today. Work by Chris Burden is included.
Chris Burden, Metropolis, 2004 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Keizo Kioku
The Foundation of the Museum
May 19, 2019–January 20, 2020
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles
To mark the museum’s fortieth anniversary, this exhibition presents a selected topography of artworks that speak to the diversity of MOCA’s collecting over the past four decades. With special emphasis on works associated with the museum’s remarkable history of exhibitions, The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection shows the institution’s holdings as shaped by a changing landscape of developments in contemporary art and curatorial focus, as well by as the social and cultural backdrops that inform them. Work by Chris Burden, Mike Kelley, Bruce Nauman, Albert Oehlen, Nancy Rubins, and Ed Ruscha is included.
Chris Burden, Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Squidds and Nunns
Crystals in Art
Ancient to Today
October 12, 2019–January 6, 2020
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystals in Art explores the connections between crystals and art throughout the world, spanning history and geography. The exhibition includes a selection of works and specimens from ancient Egypt up to the present day and addresses broader recurring themes in the history of crystals such as science and religion, art and medicine, aesthetic beauty and transformation, and more. Work by Chris Burden, Pablo Picasso, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol is included.
Chris Burden, 1/4 Carat Diamond 1/4 Carat Cubic Zirconium Magnified 25 Times, #3, 2007 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Chris Burden in
Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975
September 29, 2019–January 5, 2020
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Artists Respond brings together nearly one hundred works by fifty-eight of the most visionary and provocative artists and collectives of the Vietnam War era. Galvanized by the moral urgency of the conflict, these artists reimagined the goals and uses of art across multiple movements and media: painting, sculpture, printmaking, performance and body art, installation, documentary art, and conceptual art. This exhibition has traveled from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Work by Chris Burden is included.
Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Barbara T. Smith