29 September 2018 - 26 January 2019
Gagosian Britannia Street is currently exhibiting works of the late artist Chris Burden that embody his provocative personality. Burden, a master of many modes of expression, sealed his fate as a star in the early 1970s through a series of provocative and startling acts that challenged the boundaries of art and performance, and confronted us with the ever-elusive question: what is art? Pushing his mental and physical limitations to extreme lengths, his performance acts included him being shot in the arm by a friend (Shoot, 1971), shut inside a locker for five days (Five Day Locker Piece, 1971), and nailed through the palms of his hands, as if crucified, to his Volkswagen (Trans-fixed, 1974). Burden wanted to reflect on the explosive political environment and violence that defined America and much of the world at the time. Using his own physical body as a canvas for these extreme performances, he sought to physicalise the pain of a nation, re-sensitivise people to images of suffering and explore relationships of power and authority within society. Later in his career, Burden began to employ his daring spirit to create large-scale installations that epitomised his extraordinary understanding of architecture and engineering. Using toy-cars and actual vehicles, he constructed imposing sculptures that seemed to defy the laws of gravity.
Two of Burden’s later works are currently on display at the Gagosian Britannia Street Galleries. Entitled Measured, the exhibition showcases 1 Ton Crane Truck (2009) and Porsche with Meteorite (2013). The titles and works derive from Burden’s major career retrospective, Extreme Measures, that was exhibited at the New Museum, New York, in 2013-14. Despite the limited scope, the Gagosian’s choices are able to speak for themselves in Burden’s extensive artistic oeuvre and illustrate his continuing mission to explore the ‘precarious sense of balance’ of space, materials and perceptions, both in literal and metaphorical sense. In an astonishing feat of engineering, a functional brightly orange 1964 F350 Ford crane-truck is held in held in balance with the weight of a one-ton cast-iron cube, and a Porsche is balanced in mid-air by a meteorite. A clear juxtaposition between the balancing objects and their respective values is created by the perfect and glossy finish of the vehicles.
The ‘precarious sense of balance’ is clearly defined in Porsche with Meteorite. A brightly yellow Porsche 914 sports car, weighing 993.4 kilograms hangs from one end of a steel beam. From the other end hangs a sturdy nickel-iron meteorite (which the artist purchased on eBay), at 176.9 kilograms. By a precise alignment of physics, the objects are suspended in mid-air in an unsettling and composition. There is at once a sense of stillness, yet also an evocation of movement suggested by the implications of this precarious scenario. These elements allude to the viewer to a sense of imminent danger or threat, a subliminal fear that breaks the illusion of safety and balance. Burden is able to perform to us through these sculptures the same themes he sought to explore in his early performance pieces.
Suspended in time, the balancing act of the objects in imbued with immense power albeit veiled under a surface of pristine serenity. The installations are reflective of Burden’s continuing exploration of the equilibrium between chaos and calm. The juxtaposition between the exotic ‘extraterrestrial metal chunk’ and the luxurious industrial car calls attention to their limitations and physical capabilities, but Gagosian’s choice to display these two works alongside each other also creates a dialogue between the two, measuring them against one another. The exhibition showcases Burden’s extraordinary sensitivity and boldness with just two works, that will surely transfix any keen visitor.