In theatres now, a documentary by Magnolia Pictures celebrates the life and oeuvre of the late Chris Burden

The artist behind the Instagram darlings Urban Light and Metropolis II at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was once not so photo-friendly, as a new documentary on the late Chris Burden reveals. Directors Tim Marrinan and Richard Dewey have stitched together vintage footage of Burden’s early projects – which included him being imprisoned Houdini-like in a box, shot at close range, and burned – with a more bucolic interview at the artist’s Topanga home before his death. The one-time Wallpaper* cover artist (W*156) wanted to discover ‘an essence of sculpture that’s different [from] painting’.

Burden pushed art to an edge which even by today’s do-anything culture seems violent. The documentary is powerful, like its subject, and is clear-eyed about both the life and the work of an artist whose original vision often tested our limits for provocation. The final moments showing Burden’s flying airship at LACMA – which he was able to test, but not launch before his death in 2015 – are moving and graceful, and soften his founding, more aggressive narrative. With the recent death of fellow disrupter Vito Acconci, a seminal period in 20th century art history has now officially passed.

Writer: Patricia Zohn. The documentary is in New York and Los Angeles theatres now, with a further US and international rollout to follow. For more information, visit the Magnolia Pictures website

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