Chris Burden

Chris Burden
Chris Burden

Chris Burden during the performance of his 1974 piece Trans-fixed where he was nailed to the back of a Volkswagen
Born 1946 (1946)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Field Performance artist
Training Pomona College
University of California, Irvine

Christopher "Chris" Burden (born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1946) is an American artist working in performance, sculpture, and installation art.


Life and career


Burden studied for his B.A. in visual arts, physics and architecture at Pomona College and received his MFA at the University of California, Irvine from 1969 to 1971.[1]

Early performance art

Burden began to work in performance art in the early 1970s, he made a series of controversial performances in which the idea of personal danger as artistic expression was central. His most well-known act from that time is perhaps the 1971 performance piece Shoot, in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of about five meters.[1][2] Other performances from the 1970s were Five Day Locker Piece (1971), Deadman (1972), B.C. Mexico (1973), Fire Roll (1973), TV Hijack (1972), Doomed (1975) and Honest Labor (1979).

Through the Night Softly, September 12th 1973, Main Street, Los Angeles

One of Burden’s most reproduced and cited pieces, Trans-Fixed took place on April 23, 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California.[3] For this performance, Burden lay face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified on the car.The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine revved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage.[4]

Later that year, Burden performed his piece White Light/White Heat at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York. For this work of experiment performance and self-inflicting danger, Burden spent twenty-two days lying on a triangular platform in the corner of the gallery. He was out of sight from all viewers and he could not see them either. According to Burden, he did not eat, talk, or come down the entire time.[5]

Several of Burden's other performance pieces were considered somewhat controversial at the time: another "danger piece" was Doomed (1975), in which Burden lay motionless in a gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago under a 5' x 8' slanted sheet of glass near a running wall clock.[6] Burden planned to remain in that position until someone interfered in some way with the piece. Forty-five hours and ten minutes later, museum employee Dennis O'Shea placed a pitcher of water within Burden's reach and Burden rose, smashed the glass, and took a hammer to the clock, thus ending the piece.[7]

In 1975, he created the fully operational B-Car, a lightweight four-wheeled vehicle that he described as being "able to travel 100 miles per hour and achieve 100 miles per gallon".[8] Some of his other works from that period are DIECIMILA (1977), a facsimile of an Italian 10,000 Lira note, possibly the first fine art print that (like paper money) is printed on both sides of the paper; The Speed of Light Machine (1983), in which he reconstructed a scientific experiment with which to "see" the speed of light; and the installation C.B.T.V. (1977), a reconstruction of the first ever made Mechanical television.

In 1978, he became a professor at University of California, Los Angeles, a position from which he resigned in 2005 due to a controversy over the university's alleged mishandling of a student's classroom performance piece that echoed one of Burden's own performance pieces.[2] Burden cited the performance in his letter of resignation, saying that the student should have been suspended during the investigation into whether school safety rules had been violated. The performance allegedly involved a loaded gun, but authorities were unable to substantiate this.[9]

Later life

In 1992, Burden exhibited his Fist of Light during the Whitney Biennial exhibition in New York. It consisted of a sealed kitchen-sized metal box with hundreds of metal halide lamps burning inside. It required an industrial air conditioner to cool the room.

In 1999, Burden's sculpture When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory was shown at the Tate Gallery in London. It was a "factory-like assembly line which manufactures rubber-band-powered model aeroplanes from tissue paper, plastic and balsa wood". Each plane had a propellor powered by a rubber band, and when each was completed, at a rate of one every 2 minutes,[10] the machine launched it to fly up and circle around the gallery.[11] Unfortunately, the machine was non-functional for at least two months of the installation, leading World Sculpture News to question the intent of the piece and remark that "the work illustrated that robots, in fact, don’t rule everything, and for the time being, are still subjected to individual and groups shortcomings."[12]

In 2005, Burden released Ghost Ship, his crewless, self-navigating yacht which docked at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 28 July after a 330-mile 5-day trip from Fair Isle, near Shetland. The project was commissioned by Locus+ at a cost of £150,000, and was funded with a significant grant from Arts Council England,[13] being designed and constructed with the help of the Marine Engineering Department of the University of Southampton.[14] It is said to be controlled via onboard computers and a GPS system; however, in case of emergency the ship is 'shadowed' by an accompanying support boat.

In the Summer of 2011, Burden finished his kinetic sculpture, Metropolis II, which took four years to build. It is scheduled to be installed at LACMA in Fall 2011.[15][16]

Personal life

Chris Burden is married to multi-media artist Nancy Rubins.[2] He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. His studio is located in Topanga Canyon.[15]

Burden was referenced in David Bowie's 1977 song "Joe the Lion", Laurie Anderson's 1977 song "It's Not the Bullet that Kills You - It's the Hole (for Chris Burden)" on the double LP "Airwaves", and in the diary of Nathan Adler from the David Bowie album "1. OUTSIDE". He was also mentioned in the Jeff Lindsay book "Dexter by Design", and in Norman Mailer's book "The Faith of Graffiti". The poem "Doomed (1975)" by David Hernandez in his 2011 collection Hoodwinked[17] describes the Burden installation of the same name in Chicago.


  1. ^ a b Gagosian Gallery website. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Kastner, Jeffrey (January 1, 2005). "Gun Shy". Artforum. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  3. ^ Chris Burden (1995). Chris Burden. Blocnotes Editions. pp. 131. ISBN 2-910949-00-1. 
  4. ^ "Chris Burden at Virtual Venice". Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  5. ^ White Light/White Heat February 8 – March 1, 1975
  6. ^ Chris Burden (1995). Chris Burden. Blocnotes Editions. pp. 133. ISBN 2-910949-00-1. 
  7. ^ "Chris Burden and the limits of art," by Peter Schjeldahl. The New Yorker, May 14, 2007.
  8. ^ 1996 review of Burden's MAK retrospective
  9. ^ 2 Artists Quit UCLA Over Gun Incident
  10. ^ "Chris Burden, When Robots Rule: The Two-Minute Airplane Factory, exhibition catalogue". Store. Art Metropole. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  11. ^ "Chris Burden". Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  12. ^ R.J. Preece (15 September 2009). "Chris Burden at the Tate Gallery". World Sculpture News. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  13. ^ "Ghost Ship" at
  14. ^ "Ghost Ship - a new commissioned work by Chris Burden", Locus+, University of Southampton news release, 13 July 2005
  15. ^ a b "Chris Burden’s Metropolis II on Its Way to LACMA". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "Metropolis II by Chris Burden (the movie)". Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  17. ^ Hernadez, David "Hoodwinked" Sarabande Books. 2011 ISBN 978-1-932511-96-3

External links

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