Remembering Chris Burden 1946-2015

By - Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

The art world took a major hit on May 10th, 2015 when it lost one of its most important contemporary contributors, Chris Burden to an 18-month battle with melanoma. Burden was an artist who refused to be categorized or contained. He subjected himself and his audience to fear, humanity, raw and uninhibited. One of his performances, Doomed (1975) was not concluded until someone interfered (unannounced to the audience). After forty-five hours of Burden lying motionless under a sheet of glass beside a wall clock, a museum employee placed a pitcher of water near him. He reacted by breaking the glass, smashing the clock and thus concluding the piece. He taught us that a gallery space is not sacred and that the white cube cannot enslave ideas.

Burden took bullets for his work. Crucified himself. Lived in a locker for five days straight. He struggled mentally and physically to bring himself and his audience into a space few other artists attempted to live in, the unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Burden was transcendent. His work struck many chords with us, and others, as he moved from dangerous performances to sculpture, installation and other mediums. 

Performance art is a true test of stamina and mental resilience. We often equate the act of graffiti or street art with performance, as it takes great skill, but most importantly intuition. Studying Burden will open your eyes to several facets of the art world, and how these concepts of limits, barriers or rules are entirely subjective. It’s easy to see a work where the artist lays on a triangular platform for twenty-twos days as just insanity or stupidity — but it becomes much more when you as an audience allow yourself to find their head space, to find their thoughts. This connection is what made Burden so memorable, and honest.

Later in his life, Burden came to teach and also create one of the most recognizable outdoor installations. Outside of LACMA, 202 restored original street lamps circa 1920s/30s were erected in 2008. The space is a contagious atmosphere of wonder, and also makes for a great photo-op. The solar-powered lights illuminate around dusk, and will now serve another purpose, as a memorial.

It’s very clear that Burden played a major role in the developing North American contemporary scene, and will be missed dearly. 

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