Dizzying heights

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

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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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