Chris Burden

(1946 - 2015)

LAMA set the world auction record for photographs by Chris Burden on March 5, 2017 with 747, Bed Piece, and Prelude to 220 or 110 (1971-1973) realizing $93,750. 

About The Artist

The work of American radical conceptual artist Chris Burden (1946–2015) is among the most striking and provocative of the late 20th century. Famed for the often death-defying situations he enacted in his works, Burden created numerous performances, sculptures, installations, texts and photographs throughout his five-decade career. The personally dangerous aspect of his performances chimes with many contemporaries working in feminist and body art, such as Marina Abramović or the Viennese Actionists. Traces of previous artistic movements such as Surrealism, Dada and Futurism, too, are evident in the extreme, sometimes violent, tactics of Burden’s work.

Born in Boston, Burden grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated with a BA in visual arts, physics and architecture from Pomona College and from 1969–1971 he studied at UC Irvine under renowned artist Robert Irwin for his MFA. This latter period was a time of great productivity for Burden when he created some of his most notorious performances. In Shoot (1971), an assistant shot Burden in the arm with a .22 rifle from a short distance. For Trans-Fixed (1974), which took place on Speedway Avenue in Venice, California, Burden’s hands were nailed to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, in a display reminiscent of a crucifixion.

These early pieces cemented Burden’s reputation as an artist pursuing his ideas with absolute commitment, irrespective of their potentially harmful ends. For Burden, this drama was the key to unlocking new insights. In his Untitled Statement (1975), the artist wrote, "My art is an examination of reality.  By setting up aberrant situations, my art functions on a higher reality in a different state. I live for those items."

Sometimes this iconoclastic attitude was regarding the art institutions that increasingly accepted him and from the late 1970s onward this began to take the form of monumental sculptures. One such example is Exposing the Foundation of the Museum (1986) which took place at the Temporary Contemporary building at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. For this piece, Burden dug into the building’s concrete base and provided stairways for visitors to view MOCA’s foundations. Some of Burden’s most memorable works were made for public sites, like Urban Light (2008), a vast installation situated in the courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This work comprises 202 antique iron street lamps which had formerly been located around Los Angeles. 

Burden’s work is held in numerous prominent collections, including Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, Brumadinho; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa; and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago.