“Limits” is a relative term. Like beauty, it is often in the eye of the beholder.

Chris Burden

Chris Burden 1946–2015

The work of American radical conceptual artist Chris Burden 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 dangerous element of many of his performance parallels that of his contemporaries working in feminist and body art, such as Marina Abramović, as well as the Viennese Actionists.

Born in Boston, Burden grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in visual arts, physics, and architecture. From 1969 to 1971, Burden studied for his Master of Fine Arts at the University of California, Irvine, under renowned artist Robert Irwin. This latter period was a time of great productivity for Burden, who created some of his most notorious performances: for 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 crucifixion. These early works cemented Burden’s reputation as an artist pursuing his ideas with absolute commitment, irrespective of personal risk. For Burden, this drama was the key to unlocking new insights: "My art is an examination of reality,” he wrote in an untitled statement in 1975, “By setting up aberrant situations, my art functions on a higher reality in a different state. I live for those times."

From the late 1970s onward, Burden’s iconoclastic attitude gave way to monumental sculptures for institutions that were increasingly accepting of his work. One such example is Exposing the Foundation of the Museum (1986) 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 literal foundations. Some of Burden’s most memorable works were made for public sites, like Urban Light (2008), a vast installation of 202 antique iron street lamps situated at the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Burden’s work is held in numerous prominent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Auction Results Chris Burden