Christopher Burden, Pioneering Performance Artists, Dies

8th MOCA Award To Distinguished Women In The Arts Honoring Lita Albuquerque, Helen Pashgian, Nancy Rubins And Betye Saar

The sculptor and performance artist Christopher Burden passed away of cancer at his home in Topanga Canyon, California on Sunday. He was 69. The death was confirmed to ARTINFO yesterday by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has long held the artist’s work in its collections. The Los Angeles Times reported that Burden had been diagnosed with melanoma 18 months ago.

A pioneer in performance art, Burden’s early works pushed the artist’s body in new and often controversial ways, as in his 1971 master’s thesis at the University of California, Irvine, “Five Day Locker Piece,” or his infamous “Shoot” piece, also carried out that year. (Like much of Burden’s work, the titles are self-evident.) Burden expanded his practice to other mediums, broadcasting his performance videos as television commercials in Los Angeles, and moving into monumental sculpture with 1979’s “The Big Wheel.” Responding to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991, Burden made “L.A.P.D. Uniforms,” an enlarged set of uniforms that proved particularly poignant when shown at the artist’s 2013 New Museum retrospective. The artist’s final sculpture is set to go on view at LACMA on May 18.

LACMA director Michael Govan offered the following statement by email:

Few artists can claim a body of work as rich, varied, and influential as Chris Burden — from his early, definitive and provocative performances to his large-scale installations and sculptures.

Personally, it has been a privilege and pleasure to work with Chris on the installation of two monumental works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Urban Light” and “Metropolis II,” two artworks that have become destinations for visitors of all backgrounds.

Chris has left his mark not only on the art world but also on Los Angeles, his home since the late 1960s, thanks to “Urban Light.” Installed at LACMA’s entrance and made from 202 historic LA street lamps, it stands as a testament to the lasting power of Chris Burden’s talent, skill, and imagination.

For more on Burden’s passing, see obituaries in the LA Times, the Washington PostArt News, and the Wall Street Journal.

— Mostafa Heddaya (@mheddaya)

(Photo: Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins attend the 8th MOCA Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts. Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.)