You definitely know the work of Chris Burden, even if you don’t know his name. Know those street lights in front of LACMA? That was him. Did you know he shot himself once in a performance? Well, he did. Did you also know that he is one of the key players of Pacific Standard time, participating in shows at Pomona College Museum of Art, the Getty, Orange County Museum of Art, Laguna Art Museum, and Pasadena Museum of California Art? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. Regardless, Chris Burden is an artist who may be the most emblematic figure of what Southern California art is because he came of age and matured at nearly the same time as Southern California art.
Burden is not from Los Angeles or even Southern California. In keeping with being an Angeleno transplant, he came here by way of Boston and went on to study at Pomona and UC Irvine. As shown through the It Happened At Pomona shows, Burden was an integral part of the Pomona College art scene, a hub for artists that yielded such influencers like James Turrell, Judy Chicago, John White, and others. His work mainly revolved around (dangerous) performance art in the early seventies. His performances included such hallmark performances of his like Shoot, the previously mentioned piece where he was shot in the arm from five meters away, Trans-Fixed, where Burden is nailed to the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle in a Christ-like position, and Doomed, where Burden laid in a gallery under a piece of glass for nearly an hour.
As his practice matured along with the Southern California art scene, he garnered quite a bit of attention and some forms of fame. He earned a spot as a Guggenheim Fellow and even participated in the 1992 Whitney Biennial, where he created a heat generating piece that needed its own air conditioning in order to be viewed. Burden eventually held a position as a professor at UCLA for some time, carrying the torch from art scholar to art influencer. But, in 2005, he left after mild controversy surrounding the university and what it would allow students to do, challenging what we allow and foster for future Southern California artists. In 2008, he created his now iconic–almost Los Angeles art defining–Urban Light at LACMA. Just this past month, he followed up with Metropolis II at LACMA, which is his much buzzed about moving sculpture that features lots of toy cars racing at high speeds.
For more on Chris Burden and what shows he is currently in, check out the Pacific Standard Time blog!
Above: Untitled, Chris Burden. 1966. Bronze 6 1/2 x 5 in. Collection of the artist. Photograph courtesy of the artist © Chris Burden.