Chris Burden’s Extreme Measures at the New Museum – Extremely good

(Cate tells us about the boyish work of Chris Burden at the new Museum, a show with big ideas and big objects.–the Artblog editors)

The current show at The New Museum is a guy show, a guy magnet, a veritable Super Bowl of guy art. The exhibition, Chris Burden: Extreme Measures, spans the entire Museum from the lobby to the rooftop, including the facade of the building. The show brings this West coast artist to New York with unabashed fan fever.

A boat on the building

Starting with the boat installed on the facade of the building, the 1 ton truck on the first floor, the car and motorcycle in separate pieces installed on the fourth floor, I was impressed with Burden’s commitment to common objects as sculptural mass. The works have a sense of presence and balance as objects, but they also resonate as elements drawn with fine lines on a large canvas. To balance these large objects there are scale model bridge constructions on the third floor and war and combat toys installed on the second floor. And with that he’s brought the whole toy-box filled with pieces and ideas that shaped a career.

“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures” at New Museum, New York, 2013. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.
“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures” at New Museum. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.

Performance art in plastic binders

Oddly, the performance art work from the 70’s which first brought his name to the east coast is installed on the fifth floor, caught in binders and plastic pages. As displayed here, it seems to represent a time period that has been packed away and left to the pages of history or as snapshots of boyhood antics found in the attic. While seminal performance pieces of their time, they seem to no longer fit the artist. He’s outgrown that body and the work it created. His sculptural pieces now perform those duties.

Power, balance and scale

Taken individually, the pieces in the show are amazing displays of power, balance, materials, surface textures and scale. The most dramatic floor includes only two pieces, one is new, the other is the oldest in the show. Occupying over half of the space is “Porsche with Meteorite” in which a yellow porsche is suspended and balanced by a smallish grey meteorite. Suspended motion, weight, power, size, scale and color all in balance. The other installation on that floor, The Big Wheel, dating from the late 1970’s, is a small blue motorcycle positioned in front of a large wheel. At various times in the day, a person from the staff engages the motorcycle which rumbles to life. Then pressing its rear wheel to the large fly wheel as it accelerates through its gears, the small wheel pushes the large wheel to life. The motorcycle disengages and the fly wheel spins for the next two hours. The motorcycle is loud, the wheel is silent.

“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures” at New Museum, New York, 2013. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.
Porsche with Metorite (2013), Chris Burden. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.
The Big Wheel (1979), Chris Burden. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.

Miniature war landscapes

The other floor I was drawn to was the second floor with its landscape of war toys. One large installation entitled “A tale of Two Cities” shows two miniature waring cities replete with soldiers, fighter jets, and rugged terrain. Surrounded by a ring of viewing stations with binoculars, you can scan the entire scene or focus in on small battles staged at various locations allowing you to observe the war from afar or zoom in on a skirmish. Also on that floor is an installation of 625 toy submarines suspended by wire, one for each submarine in the real world US Navy at the time of the piece’s conception. It gives a startling view of how vast the navy, the ocean and the US reach. Seen at various angles like a school of fish swarming about, the underwater fleet, suspended in the air like a mobile is backed by a wall listing of the commissioned navel fleet since its inception.

A Tale of Two Cities (1981), Chris Burden. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.
All the Submarines of the United States of America (1987), Chris Burden. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.

A truck and a Ghost Ship

The “1 Ton Crane Truck” sits smartly at the ready on the ground floor, like a prized toy truck ready to zoom with its equal and heavy load. In the adjacent lobby, there is a panel showing the website from “Ghost Ship” which follows the original 400 mile journey of the unmanned, computer guided vessel as it traveled the coast of Scotland. The voyage is recorded and mapped for viewing. The boat, now neatly tethered to the facade of the building, waits for its next breeze to sail away.

a1 ton
1 Ton Crane Truck (2013), Chris Burden. Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley.

The show is a great mix of ideas, and sculptural objects, big things and big ideas. It’s hard to imagine that this is the first New York survey of his work.

Chris Burden: Extreme Measures can be seen at the New Museum in New York City until January 12, 2014.