In January 2014, I visited the New Museum in New York City as part of a weeklong arts immersion organized by my master’s program. The museum specializes in contemporary art, and during my visit, I saw “Chris Burden: Extreme Measures.”
The exhibit was the first New York survey of the conceptual artist and his first major exhibition in the United States in more than 25 years. It was also my introduction to his work.
Burden died from melanoma on Sunday at 69.
An obituary by the New York Times starts out by describing Burden as “a conceptual artist who in the line of duty had himself shot, pierced, starved, crucified, electrocuted, cut by glass, kicked down stairs, locked up, dropped from heights and nearly drowned.”
His performance art pieces, the most famous of which took place in the 1970s, put his body and mind through unimaginable extremes just to prove a point, to make a statement, to get the wheels turning in his onlookers’ brains.
One of his best-known early works is “Shoot” (1971), where he was shot in the arm from a distance of about 15 feet. The bullet was only supposed to graze his arm, but it ended up feeling “like a truck hit my arm at 80 miles per hour,” he said. The stunt took place the year after the Kent State shooting.
But what I saw at the New Museum was not his performance art. His sculptural work, “A Tale of Two Cities,” affected me the most.
It’s an installation that consists of about 5,000 toys, sand, plants and boulders arranged to represent a scale model of two cities at war. The level of detail is astonishing. I don’t even know how long I stared at it in wonder, taking in each figurine and appreciating the tediousness of the piece. And then I started thinking about what it means to have meticulously arranged toys representing war. The piece stayed in my head for days, and it’s taken up residence once again in light of Burden’s death.
I think it’s a shame to only appreciate an artist after he’s died. But I think it would be more of a shame if the recognition that Burden’s work deserves faded away.
Take a look. Keep it alive.
The Garfield County 4-H Council is hosting its Shamrock Shindig all day at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle. The free event will feature dancing to live music, a live auction and a silent auction, and it serves as the 4-H Council’s main fundraiser for the year. Don’t miss the opportunity to have some fun outside this weekend while helping a great organization raise money.
The 2015 Glenwood Springs Walk MS starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday at the No Name rest stop off I-70. The route takes place along the bike path through Glenwood Canyon between No Name and Grizzly Creek. A 1.5-mile, 3-mile and 5-mile route will be available, and the walk is free (though donations are appreciated). There is also a 5K run beginning at 8 a.m. with a $25 registration fee required. Show up as early as 7 a.m. to get registered and ready to go for a cause.
Check out the Basalt Library at 6 p.m. for a performance from the Hudson Reed Ensemble, a theater group out of Aspen. The free event features a concert reading of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” a witty marital comedy that will surely keep you laughing.
Jessica Cabe is more grateful than ever that she saw Burden’s work in person. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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