Artist Chris Burden goes to ’Extreme Measures’ at the New Museum in New York
Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a major retrospective on home turf, but for American artist Chris Burden, the delay appears to be well worth it. The pioneering artist, who has enjoyed a prolific career spanning 40 years, is the centre of a major exhibition ’Extreme Measures’ at New York’s New Museum, quarter of a decade since his last big US show. Bringing together an extensive collection of past and present works that encompass sculpture, video, performance and installation, the exhibition is an inspiring homage to the enigmatic artist and is set to throw him back into the fore.
Taking over all of the New Museum’s five floors, ’Extreme Measures’ is a demonstration of Burden’s dexterity in working with different media. From kinetic sculptures like ’The Big Wheel’ from 1979, which consists of a three-ton spinning flywheel powered by a 1968 Benelli 250cc motorcycle, to the performance piece ’Beam Drop’ and its iterations in more recent works like ’Inhotim’ and ’Antwerp’ - all see 60 steel I-beams dropped into an excavation site filled with wet cement from over 100 feet high - the arresting works are powerful manifestations of Burden’s thematic explorations, which touch on engineering, politics, authority and the military, among other themes.
While the kinetic works are undoubtedly dramatic, it is Burden’s knack for installations that is truly wondrous. ’All the Submarines of the United States of America’ from 1987, for example, comprises 625 miniature submarines hanging by thin microfilaments from the ceiling. Each cardboard model corresponds to every US Navy submarine launched from 1897 to the year it was created. Across the room, a sprawling diorama made up of five thousand toy robots, vehicles and figures depict two cities at war in a sandy, rocky landscape - again serving as critical commentary for military authority.
Burden’s newly unveiled works - two intricate, yet mammoth depictions of bridges made from concrete and Mysto Type I Erector parts respectively - also make the most of this life-like quality. Both constructions spread comfortably hinting back at Burden’s study of architecture back in college.
Capping off the show (literally) is another installation on top of the New Museum building. Twin aluminium-frame skyscrapers, resembling the World Trade Centre towers and weighing 8,100 lbs each, stand majestically on the building’s room, proving that time has done little to quell Burden’s ambitious spirit. For that, we are grateful.