Chris Burden was a notorious performance artist from the American avant-garde scene of the early 70s. One of his “pieces” was to get himself shot. Another had him nailed, Jesus-like, to a VW Beetle car. David Bowie sang about that in Joe the Lion, off the Heroes album.
I confess I hadn’t heard of Burden until this perceptive and sensitive doc about him. It’s really about Art itself and the perpetually altering nature of what constitutes it. The late critic Brian Sewell pronounces Performance Art as “silly” in his usual withering way but Maria Abramovic is there to extoll Burden’s bravery and innovation.
It’s the early stuff that intrigues most, when Burden was daring an sexy, like an art world Christopher Walken. His college piece was to climb into a locker for five days.
There’s enough archive and documentary evidence to just about build up am impression of Burden’s early styles – although several of his pieces were never meant to be seen, which is conceptually tricky for a documentary to handle.
There is plenty of Burden later at his big studio in Topanga Canyon. I was surprised to see this rebel still working and still being funded. He’d become a respectable professor at UCLA but was later producing large scale mechanical pieces, such as a rather scary huge wheel that moves at frightening perpetual speed.
He died in 2015 but his final pieces assume a magisterial beauty, an airship that moves in perfect circles around a gallery, and a wonderful installation, Urban Light, comprising 200 re-purposed vintage LA street lamps which is now on Wilshere Boulevard at the entrance to LA County Museum of Art and fast becoming the city’s most interactively photographed, instagrammed location.