Among my first stops during this year’s New York trip was the New Museum, which is currently featuring a museum-wide exhibition of works by Chris Burden.
His work spans several decades and includes sculpture, performances and pieces that blur the boundary between the two. While the exhibition officially focuses on “weights and measures, boundaries and constraints”, the theme that seem to most unify all the pieces was “play”. Certainly, he has access to toys on larger scale than most of us could only dream of as kids who loved building sets. This was most apparent in his series of bridges, made from custom erector sets and other materials.
Similar principles are at work in his large-scale sculptures, which use metal and found material and also included a sense of motion. The Big Wheel is indeed a huge wheel constructed from weathered metal.
It is designed to spin freely, and visitors are treated to a twice-a-day “performance” of the piece where a motorcycle is used to start the wheel spinning. You can see a bit of this in the following video:
A nearby sculpture address the absence of motion with a perfectly balanced Porsche and meteorite. I am curious as to how Burden obtained such a large meteorite to use in this piece.
Motion is taken to another extreme in an outdoor piece (shown as video documentation in the exhibition) where large steel beams are dropped into a pool of wet cement. As the positions, angles, are unpredictable, the result is a rather chaotic jumble of vertical steel spires. The video itself is quite interesting with the motion of the cement in response to the the dropping beams.
Perhaps the element of play is most apparent (and most poignant) in A Tale of Two Cities. Burden constructs a tableaux of two city-states at war using sand, plants and a large array of toys.
Some of these toys (in particular, a few of the space-themed toys) were familiar from my own childhood. And certainly we sometimes created battles with them. But those fantasies never touched on the realities of war, and somehow Burden made that very apparent in this piece. Perhaps it was the presence of bullets among the toys that made it seem like something very, very bad could come of this.
The exhibition also includes other conceptual pieces, as well as some examples of Burden’s early video work, which was interesting precisely because it seems dated.
Chris Bürden: Extreme Measures will be on display at the New Museum through January 12, 2014.