In Memoriam: L.A.’s Own Chris Burden (1946–2015)

May 11, 2015

We at LAMA were saddened to hear of Chris Burden’s passing yesterday morning, Sunday May 10, in Los Angeles.

Since 1969 Burden lived in Southern California–first he studied at Pomona College in Claremont, and then he received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine. A conceptual artist, his early performance pieces involved physical endurance and pain. “Shoot” (1971) is a notable example, for which he arranged to have a bullet graze his arm by a friend with a rifle shooting at a distance of 15 feet. In the 1970s he also worked in video, not only to document his performances, but to produce conceptual “commercials” and interventions for television– commentaries on mass media culture. Full Financial Disclosure (1976–1977) is a slyly earnest endeavor created during an era rife with cynicism about Vietnam, Watergate, and Congressional mishaps. A multi-media work, Burden created a television commercial that ran on local L.A. stations, concurrent with a gallery exhibition showing an accounting of his credits, debts, cancelled checks, and IRS filings for 1977.

Lot 228 Chris Burden Full Financial Disclosure 1976-77

Chris Burden, Full Financial Disclosure, 1976-77

With a familial and childhood background in science and engineering, and having studied courses in architecture at Pomona College, Burden went on to make big, powerful, and sometimes kinetic installations. Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight says Burden explored power in its various forms and meanings. The Big Wheel (1979), a three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a motorcycle, is in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. An ongoing installation now on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art–Metropolis II (2010)–includes steel beams, an electric grid, 18 roadways, and 1,100 speeding miniature cars. In LACMA’s entry plaza stands Urban Light (2008), 202 antique cast-iron street lamps in the form of a Classical Greek temple. It has become a much-beloved symbol of the city. Los Angeles will miss Chris Burden.


Lot 459 Chris Burden If You Drive & If You Fly (2) 1973

Lot 459 Chris Burden If You Drive & If You Fly (2) 1973

Chris Burden, If You Drive & If You Fly, 1973


For further reading:

“Chris Burden dies at 69: artist’s light sculpture at LACMA is symbol of L.A.,” by Christopher Knight on May 10, 2015.

“Chris Burden, Pioneering Performance Artist and Large-Scale Sculptor, Dead at 69,” by Benjamin Sutton on May 10, 2015. 

“Chris Burden, 1946–2015,” by Linda Theung, Lacma Unframed editor, on May 11, 2015. 

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