“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures” at New Museum, New York, 2013 Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photo: Benoit Pailley
NEW YORK - There are several ways in which the 67-year-old conceptual art icon Chris Burden is the quintessential modern day “guy’s artist” – he explicitly plays with toys, but on a huge scale, and in his younger days he put himself through harrowing tests of physical adversity. Most famously, he had himself shot with a rifle for the 1971 piece Shoot. It’s sort of hard to imagine a female artist doing that.
“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures,” the first big survey of his work in decades, is currently on view at the New Museum where it has taken over all the galleries until January 12. His interest in exploring limits and pushing proverbial envelopes is amply evident.
Chris Burden's All the Submarines of the United States of America, 1987. 625 miniature cardboard submarines, 96 x 240 x 144 in (243.8 x 609 x 365.2 cm). Dallas Museum of Art purchase with funds donated by the Jolesch Acquisition Fund, The 500 Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, Bradbury Dyer, III, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant M. Hanley, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Michael C. Mewhinney, Deedie and Rusty Rose, and Mr. and Mrs. William T. Solomon
Huge installations rule the day, from elaborate replicas of bridges to armies of toy soldiers climbing over sand. One of the most arresting pieces is a beautiful array of tiny subs hanging from wires that creates an almost Pointillist spray of form in All the Submarines of the United States of America, 1987. His wife, Nancy Rubins, is also a talented artist who has a penchant for using objects in surprising ways, and I wrote about her several years ago for the New York Times.
Burden’s work exists where the playful meets the thoughtful. My favorite piece by far is Beam Drop, a series of videos that Burden has done a few times over the years: from a crane he drops enormous steel beams onto wet concrete one by one, and then edits the video so that we only see the action parts. You see the long dark forms hit and wobble a bit and there is a satisfying, juicy sound that accompanies the fall. It made me think of a Kandinsky line drawing that has come to life.
Chris Burden's Beam Drop, 1984. Art Park, Lewiston, NY. Photo: Chris Burden