Through September 19, 2015, Gagosian Gallery in Le Bourget, Paris is presenting work by the late American artist Chris Burden. Over the course of his life, Burden became known for his controversial performances and installations, in which he put himself in intense personal danger or subjected himself to mass amounts of physical stress, often toeing the line of gruesome self-mutilation. Mechanical and technological intervention, scale and weight, and the physically or imagined limits of the human body frequently reappear as themes in Burden’s work.
Chris Burden, Porsche with Meteorite (2013), detail, via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
Since gaining notoriety in the 1970s for his life-threatening performances (for example ‘Shoot’, a 1971 performance in which an assistant shot Burden in the arm), the artist has worked across both sculpture and performance, building extensive large-scale models and testing the boundaries between physics, architecture and art. In his more threatening performances, Burden makes a spectacle out of the physical capacity of his body. Examples of these physical feats include crucifying himself through nailing his hands to an automobile, punching through a sheet of glass, and refusing food and water for twenty-two days while laying still in the corner of a gallery. Beginning in the 1980s, the artist’s emphasis on performance began to give way to the production of intricate installations and architectural models.
Chris Burden, Pair of Namur Mortars (2013), via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
Bullets, weapons, machinery and toys continue to feature centrally in Burden’s work, and his attention to the aesthetics of risk that inform his art practice, not to mention an almost obsessive eye for detail and exactitude, resounds across this selection of work. Burden’s sculptural installations range from factory-like assembly lines to miniature models of cities and highways, with a style reflecting his preference for highly fabricated, industrial constructions, commingled with the extremely visceral.
On view at the Gagosian gallery are a collection of some of Burden’s most impressive designs and mechanical feats produced over the last fifteen years. Since 2003, Burden has been working on reproductions of bridges, both real and imagined. Tower of London Bridge (2003) mimics the exact suspension design of London Bridge, while Three Arch Dry Stack Bridge, 1/4 Scale (2013) is constructed out of three hand-cast concrete blocks leaning against each other, held up only by friction and gravity. In the evocative Porsche with Meteorite (2013), Burden presents a bright yellow Porsche hanging in mid-air as an exact counterbalance to the extraterrestrial, hanging from the opposite tip of an enormous steel frame.
Chris Burden, Tyne Bridge Kit (2004), detail, via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
Burden’s unexpected passing in May has prompted widespread critical reflection on the scale and scope of his contributions to the world of performance art and sculpture during his lifetime. The profundity of Burden’s influence, and the pioneering work he consistently produced since the 1970s secures his position as one of the most significant artistic voices of the late 20th century. In this exhibition, some of his better-known pieces are placed on display side-by-side, presenting the opportunity to view and compare significant examples of Burden’s facility in manipulating form and testing the psychological and physical limits of physical mass.
Chris Burden, Tower of London Bridge (2003), via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
All Images Courtesy of Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
— A. Corrigan
Exhibition Page [Gagosian Gallery]