Sculptor Chris Burden Dies At 69

Sculptor Chris Burden Dies At 69

10:45am May 11, 2015

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Now we remember an artist who never felt he needed to think like everyone else. Chris Burden has died of cancer at the age of 69. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In 1971, Chris Burden became a sensation for a performance piece he did at a gallery. The 24-year-old art school grad asked a friend to shoot him at close range with a .22-caliber rifle.


DEL BARCO: Someone in the audience recorded the audio, and a photo of the event made Burden famous. The artist later told the BBC that while the Vietnam War was raging, he wanted to know what it felt like to be shot.


CHRIS BURDEN: And the bullet went in my arm and out the other side, which was very disgusting. When you hear about it, it sounds absurd on the face of it. The guy must be crazy. Why would anybody do that?

DEL BARCO: Burden continued to test the limits of his own body art, says his close friend Paul Schimmel, former curator of LA's Museum of Contemporary Art.

PAUL SCHIMMEL: His performances represented almost the last edge of the notion of an avant-garde.

DEL BARCO: Burden's art had him crawl over broken glass, nail his hands to the top of a VW Beetle as if being crucified. That inspired David Bowie to write "Joe The Lion."


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) Tell you who you are if you nail me to my car.

DEL BARCO: Michael Govan is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

MICHAEL GOVAN: He did a lot of crazy things in those early years, but if you reread those, you see there was an aspect of protest in what he was doing, but all with an intense thoughtfulness.

DEL BARCO: Govan says Burden's art evolved as he became a sculptor. Outside LACMA glows Burden's piece "Urban Light" - 202 streetlamps from the 1920s and '30s he carefully restored. Govan says Burden meant it to be a temple illuminated from dusk till dawn.

MICHAEL GOVAN: They have become a symbol of Los Angeles. There are always people taking pictures - wedding pictures, engagement pictures, selfies. He wrote a text about it - the great city should be safe after dark and beautiful to behold.

DEL BARCO: Chris Burden's final completed work will be on display at LACMA next week. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Support your
public radio station