A Guide to the Best Chris Burden Performances on YouTube

05 May 1979, New York City, New York State, USA --- American artist Chris Burden, working in performance, sculpture, and installation art posing in front of The Big Wheel under construction in 1979.The Wheel is currently on display at The New Museum in New York as part of:
Chris Burden, 1979. Photo: Kenneth Johansson/Corbis

Artist Chris Burden, who had a retrospective at the New Museum in 2013 (he stuck that boat on the façade of the building), died of malignant melanoma in Los Angeles. Read Jerry Saltz’s heartfelt reminiscence here.

Performance was the cornerstone of Burden’s practice early on, starting with Five Day Locker (1971), in which he stayed inside a locker at the University of California, Irvine, for five days. A few of these performances were videotaped and now exist on YouTube.

Shoot (1971)

This is perhaps Burden’s most famous work. This tape begins with a fuzzy recording over a black screen — it’s Chris Burden saying he’s ready to be shot. Then an image appears, and Burden is standing in a corner with a man pointing a rifle at him from a few feet away. Then there’s a pop. The piece quite possibly could have been fatal, but in the end, the bullet just grazes his arm. And, of course, it’s no less thrilling to behold. The tape was shot by Burden’s wife, Barbara, who I guess didn’t feel the need to intervene. 

Through the Night Softly (1973)

This is Burden writhing his body, hands behind his back, over 50 feet of glass shards. It’s a searing document.

The Big Wheel (1979)

Not quite a performance, this sculpture addresses similar questions about time and motion while acting as a object unto itself. It also just looks really cool when the motorcycle gets going.

Beam Drop (2013)

The scale of this performance is pretty stunning: There’s a crane lifting I-beams into the air and then dropping them into wet concrete, creating a large-scale work constructed by chance. The sculpture is still standing at the Instituto Inhotim in Brazil.

The Best of Chris Burden on YouTube