LA Artist Chris Burden’ New Museum (NYC) Retrospective

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paper magazine

Artsy Fartsy

Chris Burden’s “Extreme Measures” Exhibition Opens In New York
by Gary Pini

A major retrospective of works by the California-based artist Chris Burden opens tomorrow in New York City. Covering the artist’s forty year career, Extreme Measures fills all five floors of the New Museum on the Bowery and will remain on view until January 12, 2014. This is Burden’s first major U.S. exhibition in twenty years and it includes two giant pieces installed on the museum’s exterior. While you’re there, be sure to check out the museum’s new food vendor, Hester Street Cafe, operated by the folks who run the Hester Street Fair. They created some tasty treats to go along with several sculptures seen in the exhibit, as you’ll see below in our sneak-peek walk thru.

quasi-legal-towers.jpgThirty-six foot tall structure on the museum’s roof called Twin Quasi Legal Skyscrapers (2013) and Ghost Ship (2005) on the facade.

ghost-ship.JPGHester Street Cafe homage to “Ghost Ship.”

1-ton-truck.JPGOne Ton Crane Truck, 2009

1-ton-dessert.JPGHester Street Cafe’s homage to One Ton Crane Truck

porsche-meteorite.JPGPorsche with Meteorite, 2013

porsche-meteorite-detail.JPGPorsche with Meteorite (detail), 2013

edible-meteorite.JPGHester Street Cafe’s homage to Porsche with Meteorite

big-wheel.JPGThe Big Wheel (1979), a cast iron wheel powered by a motorcycle.

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designboom
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum

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chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
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Oct 05, 2013

chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
courtesy new museum, new york. photo: benoit pailley

chris burden
new museum, new york

now through january 12, 2014

new museum, new york presents ‘extreme measures’ by chris burden: a selection of the artist’s expansive body of work, which has traversed an incredible spectrum of mediums including performance, sculpture, and installation. thematically, the exhibition focuses on boundaries and constraints, and the point at which physical and moral limits are called into question. the show’s namesake ‘extreme measures’ is a succinct characterization of burden’s prolific, 40-year career: pushing material, object, and body to their maximum allowance and studying the aftermath. his early work remains some of the most controversial and influential art of the 1970s, redefining performance with ‘shoot’ in 1971, in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant at a gallery in california, and ‘trans-fixed’ in 1974, where he was crucified to the hood of a volkswagen beetle. one of burden’s central motives in artistic expression is to experiment and challenge the idea of personal danger.

following his expansive interactive endeavors, burden began to translate his provocative aesthetic into sculpture, creating a series of ambitious work that appropriated the context of huge machinery as artwork. ‘the big wheel’ created in 1979 had a death-defying member of the museum staff power the rotation of a three-ton cast fly wheel of a 1968 benelli motorcycle. ‘beam drop’, iterated most recently at inhotim, brazil (see designboom’s coverage of artwork here) is a structural assembly of steel I-beams that had been dropped from a height of 45 meters by a construction crane into a three meter-deep wet concrete pit.


‘chris burden: extreme measures’ at new museum, new york, 2013
courtesy new museum, new york. photo: benoit pailley

most recently, burden’s work can be seen taking over all five floors of the new museum, including its facade. he has installed two sculptures directly onto the surface of the museum’s stacked architecture: one placed on the roof and the other fastened to its side. crowning the building are two, massive aluminum-frame towers placed beside each other, undoubtedly resembling the world trade center structures. seemingly stuck to its side, a thirty-foot handmade sailboat ‘ghost ship’ casually rests near the entrance, which burden intended to allude to a rescue ship in the aftermath of hurricane sandy. even through non-performance, burden responds with an extreme reinterpretation of the contemporary art museum’s already exaggerated engineering, demonstrating his ever-present eagerness to provoke and defy.

 


‘chris burden: extreme measures’ at new museum, new york, 2013
courtesy new museum, new york. photo: benoit pailley


chris burden
ghost ship, 2005
thirty-foot handmade sixern sailboat, computers and software, hydraulics, global positioning system, auto rudder, rigging; mast
360 in (914.4 cm); overall: 72 x 102 x 360 in (182.9 x 259 x 914.4 cm)
courtesy the artist and gagosian gallery, photo: chris burden


‘chris burden: extreme measures’ at new museum, new york, 2013
courtesy new museum, new york. photo: benoit pailley


chris burden
three arch dry stack bridge, ¼ scale, 2013
974 hand-cast concrete blocks, wood base
45 ½ × 331 × 21 in (115.5 × 840.7 × 53.3 cm)
image courtesy the artist

chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
the big wheel, 1979
three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a 1968 benelli 250cc motorcycle
112 x 175 x 143 in (284.5 x 444.5 x 363.2 cm)
collection the museum of contemporary art collection, los angeles
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
the big wheel, 1979
three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a 1968 benelli 250cc motorcycle
112 x 175 x 143 in (284.5 x 444.5 x 363.2 cm)
collection the museum of contemporary art collection, los angeles
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
1 ton crane truck, 2009
restored 1964 f350 ford crane truck with one-ton cast-iron weight
14 ft × 22 ft 10 in × 8 ft (4.2 × 6.9 × 2.4 m)
courtesy the artist and gagosian gallery
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
1 ton crane truck, 2009
restored 1964 f350 ford crane truck with one-ton cast-iron weight
14 ft × 22 ft 10 in × 8 ft (4.2 × 6.9 × 2.4 m)
courtesy the artist and gagosian gallery
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
beehive bunker, 2006
concrete, steel rebar, steel wire, cast-iron manhole cover, plastic hoses
10 ft × 9 ft 4 in d (3 × 2.8 m)
courtesy the artist, photo © joel searles
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
triple 21 foot truss bridge, 2013
stainless steel reproduction mysto type i erector parts
45 ¾ × 701 × 14 ¾ in (116.2 × 1780.5 × 37.5 cm)
courtesy the artist
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
all the submarines of the united states of america, 1987
625 miniature cardboard submarines
96 x 240 x 144 in (243.8 x 609 x 365.2 cm)
dallas museum of art purchase with funds donated by the jolesch acquisition fund, the 500 inc., the national endowment for the arts, bradbury dyer, iii, mr. and mrs. bryant m. hanley, jr., mr. and mrs. michael c. mewhinney, deedie and rusty rose, and mr. and mrs. william t. solomon
chris burden: extreme measures at new museum
chris burden
l.a.p.d. uniforms, 1993
wool serge, metal, leather, wood, plastic
88 × 72 × 6 in (223.5 × 182.8 × 15.2 cm) each
collection: marion boulton stroud, philadelphia; and collection: fabric workshop and museum, philadelphia
photo courtesy of fabric workshop

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HYPERALLERGIC

MuseumsWeekend

Heavy Metal Fatalist: Chris Burden at the New Museum

Chris Burden, "Trans-fixed" (April 23, 1974). Performance, Venice, California. Documentary photograph in three-ring binder. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Chris Burden, “Trans-fixed” (April 23, 1974). Performance, Venice, California. Documentary photograph in three-ring binder. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

What’s most compelling about Chris Burden: Extreme Measures — the Los Angeles-based artist’s first New York retrospective, which has taken over five floors of the New Museum — is what’s not there. Or almost not there.

What is almost not there, by its very nature, is his early performance work, which now exists only as text descriptions and a handful of photographs and video clips. The New Museum has gathered a chronological compilation of the texts and photos into three-ring binders, which are placed on desks in the fifth floor gallery. There are also some videos playing in the corner of the room.

These events, which took place between 1971 and 1977, courted real danger and tested real limits. The most notorious of them all, of course, is “Shoot” (November 19, 1971), in which Burden arranged to have himself shot in the left arm by a .22 caliber rifle. As reckless as it was, the piece made a crazy kind of sense against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the political assassinations still echoing from the recently extinguished Sixties.

But “Shoot,” at least for me, is not the hardest to take of Burden’s early works, perhaps because it is over so quickly (the film clip of the shooting and its aftermath is a brisk eight seconds long) or because Burden’s reaction to being shot is so unintentionally comical — gripping his arm as he quickly trots forward, evidently in a state of shock, with a wide-legged, Chaplinesque gait.

Chris Burden, "Pair of Namur Mortars" (2013). Bronze, wood, iron, steel, stone. Dimensions: Each mortar: 60 × 132 × 48 inches. Each stack four cannon balls: 36 × 36 inches. Approximate weight of each mortar, cradle, and four cannonballs: 12,000 lbs. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

Chris Burden, “Pair of Namur Mortars” (2013). Bronze, wood, iron, steel, stone. Dimensions: Each mortar: 60 × 132 × 48 inches. Each stack four cannon balls: 36 × 36 inches. Approximate weight of each mortar, cradle, and four cannonballs: 12,000 lbs. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

In my book, the award for the most grueling performance goes to “Trans-fixed” (April 23, 1974). Burden’s typewritten text for the piece begins as follows:

Inside a small garage on Speedway Avenue, I stood on the rear bumper of a Volkswagen. I lay on my back over the rear section of the car, stretching my arms onto the roof. Nails were driven through my palms into the roof of the car.

The implications of this piece are much wider than “Shoot’s” plaintive political statement. Its reenactment of the Crucifixion on a Volkswagen indicts both consumerism and a cultural amnesia that transformed the Hitler-sponsored “people’s car” into Walt Disney’s Love Bug (1968). But its theatricality (“Screaming for me,” Burden continues, “the engine was run at full speed for two minutes”) and the power of its imagery — the documentary photo of the artist splayed against the roof of the car — take the work to another level, probing psychosexual recesses too tender to touch.

By driving hard nails through warm flesh into cold steel — taking literally, and to extremes, the devotional ideal expressed in Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ (ca.1418-1427) — Burden is excavating the unspoken masochism adjoined to the pursuit of perfection. By submitting to the pressures imposed by an impossible ideal while simultaneously controlling the terms of his martyrdom and subverting it with irony, Burden’s ultimate act of self-abnegation may be seen as the ultimate act of defiance — and yet his overriding fatalism, defiant or not, leaves him in the end pinned, tortured and helpless.

It is admirable that the curators of the exhibition, Lisa Phillips, Massimiliano Gioni, Jenny Moore and Margot Norton, decided to leave the documentation of the early performances in binders on desks rather than follow the recent vogue for reenactment (who would sign up for that gig?) or otherwise “bring the performances to life.”

The documentation is extraordinarily powerful in the simplicity of its texts and photos — nothing extra is needed. The binders may be overlooked by the casual visitor, but that too bears implications for the passage of time in an artist’s career and the inherent transience of the art form.

The rest of the show is a choice selection of Burden’s big sculptures, with only a few per floor (and a single piece in the lobby), which makes for an uncluttered assessment of the artist’s concerns after his performance heyday.

Those concerns — which can be summed up as a pas de deux of vulnerability and aggression — are not surprisingly closely related to his early work. Where nails, pins and a bullet once pierced real flesh, we now have full-scale reproductions in bronze, wood, iron, steel and stone of 17th-century mortars and cannonballs (“Pair of Namur Mortars,” 2013) and a fleet of 625 cardboard model submarines (“All the Submarines of the United States of America,” 1987).

Chris Burden, "The Big Wheel" (1979). Three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a 1968 Benelli 250cc motorcycle, 112 × 175 × 143 inches. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gift of Lannan Foundation.

Chris Burden, “The Big Wheel” (1979). Three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a 1968 Benelli 250cc motorcycle, 112 × 175 × 143 inches. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gift of Lannan Foundation.

The retrospective makes the case that Burden’s work is all about power: who is wielding it, who is subject to it, and how the tide can swiftly turn. Some of the works are spectacular, such as the fourth-floor show-stopper “The Big Wheel” (1979), in which a three-ton iron flywheel is set in motion by the rear tire of a revving motorcycle, while others, like the lineup of Los Angeles police uniforms, “L.A.P.D. Uniforms” (1993), made in response to the Rodney King incident, fall flat. A couple of others, most notably “Tower of Power” (1985) — one hundred one-kilo (32-ounce) gold bricks protected by sixteen needle-toting matchstick men (and one very real security guard) — are both overproduced and painfully obvious.

Chris Burden, "Porsche with Meteorite" (2013). Restored 1974 Porsche 914 with 365-pound meteorite, steel frame. Dimensions: 13 ft 6 in x 38 ft 9 in x 13 ft 6 in; car: 3ft 111⁄2in high x 13 ft 6 in long x 5 ft 4 in wide, weight: 2,190 lbs; meteorite: 15 x 17 x 15 in., weight: 365 lbs; steel structure: 13 ft 6 in x 35 ft x 6 ft; 5,025 lbs total. Courtesy the artist

Chris Burden, “Porsche with Meteorite” (2013). Restored 1974 Porsche 914 with 365-pound meteorite, steel frame. Dimensions: 13 ft 6 in x 38 ft 9 in x 13 ft 6 in; car: 3ft 111⁄2in high x 13 ft 6 in long x 5 ft 4 in wide, weight: 2,190 lbs; meteorite: 15 x 17 x 15 in., weight: 365 lbs; steel structure: 13 ft 6 in x 35 ft x 6 ft; 5,025 lbs total. Courtesy the artist

But some of the more intriguing pieces, including “The Big Wheel” and “Porsche with Meteorite” (2013), in which a 365-pound meteorite holds in balance a 2,190-pound restored 1974 Porsche 914, demonstrate that a small amount of pressure, correctly applied, can withstand or upset otherwise overpowering forces (a circumstance that lends a double meaning to the exhibition’s subtitle, Extreme Measures).

That the meteorite is a heavenly body powerful enough to levitate a much heavier manmade object (and that the car, a ’74 Porsche, was produced the same year as “Trans-fixed” and that Ferdinand Porsche was tasked by Hitler with the design and production of the Volkswagen) makes you wonder how reflexively allusive Burden’s work might be.

One of the more remarkable post-performance pieces is also one that is almost not there. It is “Beam Drop,” which first took place in 1984 at Artpark, in Lewistown, New York, with later iterations at Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporanea, in Minas Gerais, Brazil (2008), and the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, Belgium (2009). The piece involves hoisting I-beams 100 feet into the air via crane and then dropping them into a large bed of wet concrete.

The work is documented by three videos at the exhibition, and watching the process is mesmerizing. The first few beams land safely in the concrete, tipping only slightly with plenty of space between them, but as more are added — approximately sixty in all — the danger of their striking each other, clanking and sparking and landing at precarious angles, increases dramatically. The result is a stark aggregate of fractiousness, a steel thicket manifesting a mangled beauty harnessed only by letting go.

Chris Burden: Extreme Measures continues at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through January 12, 2014.

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