Chris Burden's Extreme Measures

Oct 1, 2013 7:10PM

“If you face the dragon head on, what does it mean?” the artist Chris Burden told Lucy Burns in a BBC radio interview last November. “Here we are 42 years later, still talking about it, which says something… being shot is no small thing.” Burden is, of course, talking about his controversial piece, Shoot (1971), where the artist enlisted a friend to take aim and fire a gun at him. The bullet reached its target, and Burden has lived in infamy ever since.

However, Chris Burden: Extreme Measures, the first major U.S. exhibition since 1988 for the artist, does not dwell too much on his past performance works, although it does show some of his earlier pieces on the 5th floor of the New Museum (including a brief, black-and-white television advertisement in which the shirtless artist is shown crawling through real glass, which aired in the 1970s sandwiched in between saccharine commercials for soap and coffee). 

In the exhibition, we see the artist’s technical side; he studied architecture and physics during his undergraduate degree, and it shows in pieces such as Three Arch Dry Stack Bridge, ¼ Scale (2013), where a mortar-less bridge is held together only by gravity, as well as the pièce de résistance on the 4th floor: The Big Wheel (1979), whereby a 6,000-lb. cast-iron fly wheel begins rotating through the work of a blue motorcycle. During the press preview, a New Museum employee sat on the now-vintage bike, revving the engine until the wheel moved forward at incredible speeds. For up to 2 ½ hours after the motorcycle stops, the wheel keeps rotating via kinetic energy.

This is, as Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum, said during the press preview, “The most ambitious undertaking I’ve done in the past 40 years.” From the large-scale works on display, it’s easy to see why.

Chris Burden: Extreme Measures is on view from October 2, 2031-January 12, 2014 at the New Museum in New York. See Burden's work at Christie's here.

(Article by Kathleen Massara)