Remembering the Beautiful and Challenging Work of Artist Chris Burden

Pioneering performance artist Chris Burden died of malignant melanoma Sunday morning, May 10th, at his home and studio in Topanga Canyon, California. He was 69. He was a performance artist and sculptor perhaps best known for “Urban Light” (2008), a large-scale assemblage at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Wilshire Boulevard entrance. “Urban Light” features 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s.

Burden rose to fame in the art world with performance pieces that were designed to shock and push the very boundaries of what might be called “art.” In a 1971 piece called “Shoot,” he arranged for a friend to shoot him in the arm with a rifle in an art gallery, while others looked on. Here is the video that he made on the project.

Though Burden never appeared on To the Best of Our Knowledge, this particular event came up during an interview we did with Maggie Nelson back in 2011. “Shoot” plays a role in her book, “The Art of Cruelty.” She told our executive producer Steve Paulson that the piece raises questions about consent and self-harm. She said, “cruelty poses a particular challenge when there is something that is cruel to one’s self versus something cruel that someone does to another…there are a lot of questions that get raised about who and why and when it would be appropriate to step in and not do to a body what it would like to have done to it.”

Listen to our full interview with Nelson below.

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Maggie Nelson on "The Art of Cruelty"

Maggie Nelson talks to Steve Paulson about her new book, "The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning."

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