Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry, and Other Stars Talk Chris Burden in New Performance Art Doc

“He just walks into the buzz saw and lets the feathers fly.” So says West Coast Pop art great Ed Ruscha in the trailer for the new documentary Burden, describing the aura around performance art pioneer artist Chris Burden, who died at 69 in 2015. Produced and directed by first-time documentarians Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan, Burden is set to debut at the Wexner Center for the Arts in April before traveling nationwide.

Reflecting Burden’s imposing profile, boldface names like art dealer Larry Gagosian, architect Frank Gehry, and the ubiquitous performance artist Marina Abramović also get screen time in the film. Other talking heads, according to IMDB, are Vito Acconci and Larry Bell, as well as critic Peter Plagens, and tennis star John McEnroe.

“I didn’t want to die but I wanted to come close,” Burden quips in the trailer, via archival footage. He also imagines his sculpture imposing sculpture Big Wheel spinning out of control and destroying the Guggenheim Museum.

So far the film, which was seen at the Tribeca Film Festival among other places, has received positive notices. Upon its appearance at Tribeca, the Hollywood Reporter called the film an “excellent portrait,” though it added that “it doesn’t quite explain how the seeming darkness of his 1970s performances gave way to the childlike joy of, say, Metropolis II, an immense model city traversed by countless toy cars.”

Burden was treated to a retrospective just before he died, at New York’s New Museum in 2013–14. Writing in Art in America, William S. Smith praised the presentation of documentation of Burden’s outré performances in “Extreme Measures” and noted that in his sculptures, he “compresses vast systems of power, labor, energy and violence into physical structures that convey the idea of immensity within the confines of the gallery.”

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