Gagosian is pleased to participate in the inaugural Los Angeles edition of Frieze Viewing Room with a survey of works by Chris Burden (1946–2015). The works will be available simultaneously on the Gagosian website and in the Frieze Viewing Room.
Ranging from ink-on-paper drawings to monumental site-specific sculptures, the presentation commemorates Burden's significant career and body of work on what would have been the milestone of his seventy-fifth year. A radical figure with a fierce political consciousness, Burden possessed a unique ability to wield conceptual art as a tool for sociopolitical change. Dealing in incisive metaphors for the power dynamics of industry and institution, his work remains piercingly relevant today.
Burden first gained notoriety using his body as his medium. In his performance work Shoot (1971), he filmed himself being shot in the arm at close range—a searing commentary on the dangerous entanglement between media depictions of gun-toting machismo and the very real violence of the Vietnam War. He documented twenty-three of his early performances in Chris Burden Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73 (1974), a unique self-published artist's book that adds vital commentary and context to his pioneering and often extreme performances.
Burden continued to ground his works in contemporaneous issues throughout his career; his installation of thirty larger-than-life police outfits in L.A.P.D. Uniforms (1993)—one of which is included in this presentation—is a looming reminder of the persistent national crises of racial discrimination and police brutality. America's Darker Moments (1994) restages five of the country's twentieth-century atrocities—including the bombing of Hiroshima and the Kent State massacre—using detailed lead figurines made in the style of antique toy soldiers. By presenting these scenes in a vitrine, Burden equates the act of scrutiny with the governmental abuse of power that sparked the events portrayed.
In the late 1970s, Burden began working extensively in large-scale sculpture, marrying his interests in architecture and engineering with his meditations on the strictures of the urban world. Dreamer's Folly (2010) stands in stark contrast with the consciously aggressive aura of his early performances. Three white cast-iron ornamental gazebos—seemingly plucked from a traditional English garden—are draped with intricate lace, forming a single whimsical structure that remains rooted in history. With its exploration of the relationship between the body and public space, the work recalls Urban Light (2008), Burden's site-specific installation of over two hundred antique streetlamps at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that has become a popular landmark for the city.
The Hidden Force (1995)—a little-known sculptural installation originally commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission in 1993 for the now-demolished McNeil Island Corrections Center—will be re-created for the first time by the Burden Estate. For the original work, Burden installed three shallow circular concrete pools in a green space near the penitentiary's cellblocks. Each pool was equipped with a floating elliptical object containing a magnet at one end, effectively creating a trio of outsize compasses that gravitate toward north. Visually understated yet powerfully symbolic in its purpose and design, the work suggests the unseen forces that guide individuals toward, as Burden called it, the 'right way.'
The presentation anticipates the publication of Poetic Practical: The Unrealized Work of Chris Burden, a comprehensive illustrated volume published by Gagosian that will catalogue Burden's various unfinished works of art.