Remembering Chris Burden: The incredible artist who forever changed the way we looked at contemporary art

By on April 11, 2016

Today, we’re remembering Chris Burden — he was born on April 11, 1946, in Boston; he grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, France and Italy — an incredible artist who forever changed the way we looked at contemporary art and pushed the boundaries in both his performance art and from the incredible visual work he created, like his TV commercials, 1973-1977, seen here.

A Film by Eric Minh Swenson. “Urban Light” can be seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), or drive by on Wilshire Boulevard. You can’t miss it. For more info on Eric Minh Swenson or project inquiries visit his website.

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Burden — who died last year, on May 10 — was remembered for his influence in this L.A. Times obit:

When he had himself shot in the arm for a performance piece at a Santa Ana gallery, Chris Burden became fleetingly famous. But years later, when he created such outsized, imagination-charged works as “Urban Light,” the ranks of vintage lampposts tightly arrayed outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he left a longer-lasting legacy.

Chris Burden, the protean Conceptual artist who rose from doing controversial performances in the 1970s to become one of the most compelling and widely admired sculptors of his generation, died early Sunday morning at his home in Topanga Canyon. He was 69.

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Paul Schimmel, a close friend of the artist and the former chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art who had organized Burden’s first retrospective exhibition in 1988, said the cause was malignant melanoma. Burden had been diagnosed 18 months ago, Schimmel said, but kept the information private except for a few family members and friends.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s entry plaza is home to “Urban Light,” Burden’s sculpture in the form of a Classical Greek temple unexpectedly composed of 202 antique cast-iron street lamps. Installed in 2008, it rapidly became a symbol of the city.

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LACMA’s entry plaza is home to “Urban Light,” Burden’s sculpture in the form of a Classical Greek temple unexpectedly composed of 202 restored, antique cast-iron street lamps. Installed in 2008, it rapidly became something of an L.A. symbol.

“Chris’ work combines the raw truth of our reality and an optimism of what humans can make and do,” said LACMA director Michael Govan. With “Urban Light,” he said, Burden told him that he “wanted to put the miracle back in the Miracle Mile.”

Few might have guessed that his work would someday hold such an exalted position within the civic consciousness.

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Shoot, 1971

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November 19, 1971, F Space, Santa Ana, California: “At 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend.”

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Last year, Xany Rudoff — we told you about her incredible iconic album cover art here — remembered her former professor at UCLA with a short post on Facebook:

“Thank you for inspiring me — for teaching me to think outside the box — to show me that I CAN make a career at art and most of all, to have passion and never stop creating. Your art and spirit will be remembered and go down in history forever. A true Los Angeles and Art Legend.”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.