The death of artist Chris Burden, aged 69, of cancer, was a great loss to the art world, and puts an end to a distinctive and unusual career. Few artists have moved from being a darling of the art intelligentsia to achieving a much broader popularity. His performance pieces are so well documented and discussed that he is a must-study in that particular artistic subset. Works such as Shoot (1971), wherein Burden had a friend shoot him in one arm, or Transfixed (1974) in which Burden was nailed to a Volkswagen Beetle crucifixion style (with nails through his palms, as is often shown in art, but is incorrect if you really want to crucify someone) are iconic performance art pieces that still disturb even in still photos and grainy film. By late in his career Burden was far more prominent with the public, especially with Urban Light (2008), a sculpture consisting of 202 restored streetlamp, dating originally from the 1920s-30s, that has quickly become an icon of the Los Angeles art scene, as it sits outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). There isn’t a lot for me to add, so many writers have written about Burden, but it would be unacceptable for me not to note his passing. Had he only done performances, he would have been enshrined in art history; the broader range of his later works guarantees that popular art history will include him as well.
Burden’s final work, Ode to Santos Dumont (below) is being exhibited at LACMA until June 21, 2015.