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New Museum announces Chris Burden: Extreme Measures

New Museum presents Chris Burden: Extreme Measures an exhibition on view October 2, 2013–January 12, 2014, an expansive presentation of Chris Burden’s work that is the artist’s first New York survey and his first major exhibition in the US in over twenty-five years. Burden’s epoch-defining artwork has made him one of the most important American artists to emerge since 1970. Spanning a forty-year career and moving across mediums, the exhibition presents a selection of Burden’s work where physical and moral limits are called into question.

Chris Burden, Dos Equis, 1972. Laguna Beach, California: October 16, 1972. Photo: Barbara Burden
Chris Burden, Dos Equis, 1972. Laguna Beach, California: October 16, 1972. Photo: Barbara Burden
Occupying all five floors of the Museum, Extreme Measures offers an extraordinary opportunity to examine the ways in which Burden has continuously investigated the breaking point of materials, institutions, and even himself. The exhibition also features an ambitious installation of two iconic works on the exterior of the Museum, which alter the visual landscape of Lower Manhattan. Twin Quasi Legal Skyscrapers (2013), measuring thirty-six feet in height, has been erected on the roof of the building. The two structures speak of the constantly evolving nature of the urban landscape while also evoking the lost Twin Towers. Ghost Ship (2005), a thirty-foot double-ended vessel originally designed to sail a four-hundred-mile unmanned voyage guided by computer, hangs on the Museum’s façade like a lifeboat at the ready. Burden’s exterior sculptures will remain on view for a year as part of the New Museum’s ongoing Façade Sculpture Program.

Over the past four decades, Burden has created a unique and powerful body of work that has redefined the way we understand both performance and sculpture. His early works of the 1970s remain some of the most extreme and influential performances of the era. These iconic works continue to inspire artists through Burden’s radical approach, not only to the body but also to issues of power, control, desire, and repression, and their connections to larger social and political concerns. In the late 1970s, he began a series of ambitious sculptures of increasing size and complexity that chart dense political and historical relationships, and register the depth of our mechanical and technological imagination.

At the New Museum, the exhibition will feature a selection of Burden’s work focused on marvels of engineering, such as buildings, vehicles, war machines, and bridges, consistently engaging with the representation of masculinity and the destructive potential latent in engineering pursuits. The Big Wheel (1979), a pivotal early work marking the artist’s transition from performance to sculpture, presents a six-thousand-pound cast-iron flywheel that becomes activated by a motorcycle. When the motorcycle is accelerated at full throttle, the flywheel spins to a maximum speed of two hundred RPM. Three examples of different bridge models will also be featured in the show, including Mexican Bridge (1998), built through a laborious and intricate process with Meccano and Erector metal toy construction parts, and two new works, Three Arch Dry Stack Bridge, ¼ Scale (2013), where the cinderblock structure is held up without mortar by the force of gravity alone, and Triple 21 Foot Truss Bridge (2013), a fifty-nine-foot-long cantilever bridge. L.A.P.D. Uniforms (1993), made in response to the Los Angeles riots that followed the beating of Rodney King, speak to Burden’s critical engagement with authority figures, the military, and those occupying positions of power. These themes are also explored in a dazzling construction composed of 625 miniature cardboard submarines that, when it was created in 1987, fully represented the piece’s title: All the Submarines of the United States of America. Since the early 1980s, Burden has used materials common to childhood playtime activities (such as action figures, toy trains, and construction models) to create miniaturized yet monumental models of buildings and environments. A Tale of Two Cities (1981) is a particularly remarkable example of these large-scale tableaux, depicting two city-states at war. The massive installation is made out of over five thousand toy and model pieces, live plants, and heaps of sand, taking the child’s war game to another level of complexity, obsession, and absurdity. These works will be presented along with documentation of Burden’s early performances, video works, and other ambitious installations that rigorously test the artist, the viewer, and the institution, and challenge our beliefs and attitudes about art and the contemporary world.

The exhibition is organized by Lisa Phillips, Toby Devan Lewis Director; with Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions; Jenny Moore, Associate Curator (until July 2013), and Margot Norton, Assistant Curator.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the New Museum and Skira Rizzoli and edited by Lisa Phillips and Jenny Moore. The catalogue includes essays by Johanna Burton, Thomas Crow, Amelia Jones, Jenny Moore, Guy Nordenson, Lisa Phillips, and Helene Winer, and artists Matthew Day Jackson, Tom Marioni, and Oscar Tuazon.

Chris Burden (b. 1946 Boston) currently lives and works in Los Angeles. He attended Pomona College and received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, in 1971. He had a major survey exhibition at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, California, in 1988 and at MAK–Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, in 1996. His work was presented in the 48th Venice Biennale and at the Tate Gallery in 1999. In 2008, the Public Art Fund presented WHAT MY DAD GAVE ME, one of his skyscraper sculptures, at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Chris Burden in conversation with Lisa Phillips: November 13
New Museum
235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002