RIP: Chris Burden (1946–2015)

The innovative performance and conceptual artist was 69 years old.

On Sunday morning, pioneering visual artist Chris Burden passed away in his Topanga Canyon home after a nearly two-year battle with malignant melanoma. He was 69.

Los Angeles residents experienced Burden’s immense talent mostly through his large-scale sculptures for LACMA including 2008’s Urban Light and 2010’s Metropolis II, but his artistic legacy started long before the new millennium, as a provocative grad student at UC Irvine in the 1970s. Burden’s early works often involved personal physical pain or discomfort like being nailed to the roof of a VW Beetle in 1973’s Trans-Fixed, living in a school locker for five days in 1971’s Five Day Locker Piece, and being shot in the arm in 1971’s Shoot. Burden became a UCLA professor in 1978 as his work continued to shift focus and expand in size.

While not considered as shocking as his bodily pieces, Burden used his grand sculptures to make poignant points about society (1979’s The Reason for the Neutron Bomb), ambitions (1996’s The Flying Steamroller), and history (2013’s L.A.P.D. Uniforms). The size and scale of his pieces were nothing less than awe-inspiring and impressive on several levels, engaging with audiences young and old alike.

Burden is survived by his wife, Nancy Rubins, but his legacy will continue energize and challenge generations to come.


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