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Chris Burden (American, b.1946)


Also known as:  Burden, Christopher

Birth Place: Boston, MA United States


Chris Burden (April 11, 1946 - May 10, 2015) was a sculpture and installation artist whose politically charged performance art pieces of the 1970s helped form the zeitgeist of the era. Influenced by Dadaism and the work of Marcel Duchamp he put himself in harm’s way for his art many times by being electrocuted, shot, drowned, and even nailed. Even in later years, Burden quite often used his body as his canvas. 

Born in Boston, Burden’s family moved early in his life to California. After a motor scooter crash which left him immobile for a long period of time, he became interested in visual art and photography. He received his BA in visual arts, physics, and architecture at Pomona College before going on to study at UC Irvine where he received his MFA under the tutelage of performance art luminary, Robert Irwin in 1971.

The 1970s would signal Burden’s arrival to the performance art world. His thesis was a piece called Five Day Locker Piece (1971) which required Burden to be locked inside his locker for five days. His most well-known performance piece was Shoot (1971). For this performance, Burden had an assistant shoot him with a .22 caliber rifle. 

The rest of the early seventies was spent doing similarly shocking performance pieces, skewering mass media and the United States’ role in Vietnam. Fire Roll (1973) had Burden set himself on fire. Do You Believe in Television (1976) took an audience to the third floor of a building, then showed them on television monitors that a fire had been lit on the ground floor. 

The end of the 1970s signaled a significant shift, away from performance art and toward large sculptural installations. The Speed of Light Machine (1983) is an experiment with which to see the speed of light, while C.B.T.V. (1977) was a replica and reconstruction of an original mechanical television. During this time, he became a professor at UCLA, a position he held until 2005. 

His sculptures continued to get more and more elaborate, using solar-powered lights, large swaths of wedding fabrics, erector sets, and other non-traditional materials. His work was commissioned by Brandeis University, LACMA, and the New Museum and he mounted exhibitions at the South London Gallery, the Whitney Museum, and MoMA. 

Chris Burden Frequently Asked Questions:

How much are Chris Burden's sculptures worth?

It’s hard to put a price on Burden’s work. Much of it is large scale and not re-sold often. One piece, The Atomic Alphabet (1980) is currently at auction for between $10,000 and $15,000 USD. A high-end Chris Burden piece is valued in the millions of dollars, some pieces can be had in the tens-of-thousands range. 

What are the most famous works by Chris Burden?

Shoot (1971), Fire Roll (1973), One Ton, One Kilo (2009), and Tower of Power (2002)

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