“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
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.
Frieze Los Angeles
February 15–17, 2019, booth C06
Paramount Picture Studios, Los Angeles
Gagosian is pleased to participate in the inaugural edition of Frieze Los Angeles. Featuring works by Chris Burden, Jennifer Guidi, Shio Kusaka, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Mary Weatherford, and others, the presentation will explore the various ways that Los Angeles–based artists have used drawing as both a physical and conceptual tool in their wide-ranging practices.
Ed Ruscha, Industrial Village, 1982 © Ed Ruscha
Screening and Visit
Friday, January 18, 2019, 6–8pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian Quarterly and MUBI for a screening of Chris Burden’s Big Wrench (1980) at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London. The event also provides a special opportunity to see the exhibition Chris Burden: Measured after hours before it closes on January 26, 2019. The short film will be shown at 6:10pm, 6:30pm, 6:50pm, 7:10pm, and 7:30pm. To attend the free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Burden, Big Wrench, 1980 (still) © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Estate Show at artgenève
January 31–February 3, 2019
Chris Burden’s 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper (2011) will be featured in The Estate Show, an annual event at artgenève presenting a monumental work by a historic artist.
In 2008, Burden’s massive architectural structure What My Dad Gave Me was installed at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. One of the greatest technical feats of his oeuvre, the sculpture was built from approximately one million stainless-steel pieces replicating those of an Erector set, the popular twentieth-century children’s building toy. Though smaller than its 65-foot-high forebear, 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper attests to Burden’s mastery of even more complex engineering principles. It was built in the approximate form of a ziggurat, with stairs that spiral around and step back from the perimeter as they rise to the sculpture’s apex. By moving around the sculpture, the viewer can conceive of climbing to the top, underscoring the tensions between monumental architecture and human possibility.
Chris Burden, 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper, 2011 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Chris Burden in
Disappearing—California, c. 1970: Bas Jan Ader, Chris Burden, Jack Goldstein
Through August 11, 2019
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas
In 1971, Chris Burden disappeared for three days without a trace. That work, titled Disappearing, gives its name to this exhibition, which examines the theme of disappearance in the works of Burden and his contemporaries in 1970s Southern California, Bas Jan Ader and Jack Goldstein.
Chris Burden, Relic for Disappearing, 1971 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Brian Forrest
Chris Burden in
Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975
Through August 18, 2019
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
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. 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
Chris Burden in
Closer Look: Intimate-Scale Sculpture from the Permanent Collection
Through September 1, 2019
Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, California
This exhibition provides a focused look at small sculpture in OCMA’s permanent collection. Selected for their innovative materials and playfulness in scale and function, the artworks in Closer Look are intended to be viewed at a close distance, providing the viewer with intimate moments in which to make slow and careful observations about content and construction. Work by Chris Burden is included.
Chris Burden, TV Hijack, 1972 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Gary Beydler
Chris Burden in
The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection
Through January 27, 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 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