Burden of Proof

Burden of Proof

I was on a tight schedule the other day, so I allowed myself just15 minutes for a romp through Chris Burden: Extreme Measures, which opened at the New Museum Oct. 2 and runs through Jan. 12, 2014. Fortunately, the displays are large-scale and so I met my goal, though I could have used more time for reflection.

I’d like to say this museum-wide show is fun, except Burden (b. 1946) is dead serious, even radical, when it comes to issues of power, control and repression. Still, the heart of every man/boy viewer will go out to his bridge installations. Yes, I’m jealous: These mammoth Meccano and Erector constructions on the museum’s third floor are engineering marvels and totally unlike anything I put together when young. It matters to Burden that they represent not only masculinity but also the destructive potential within engineering. To my ordinary eye, they’re benign objects of beauty and skill.

Be sure to check out the museum’s façade, where Burden’s “Ghost Ship,” 2005, hangs like a lifeboat. Look up, and you’ll see a new work installed on the roof, “Two Quasi Legal Skyscrapers,” Burden’s comment on the changing urban landscape and an evocation of the lost Twin Towers. Most beautiful of all, for all the wrong reasons, is “Tower of Power.” Set behind bulletproof glass, 101 solid, shiny gold bricks (32 ounces each) form a beehive; 16 matchstick men surround and guard the structure. Needless to say, actual museum security for this work is high, as well it should be: At today’s exchange rate, the material alone is worth in excess of $4.2 million. Of course, I’m doing just what Burden is criticizing: determining the work’s value in economic not aesthetic terms.

>> New Museum, 235 Bowery, 212.219.1222

Photos: Courtesy New Museum, New York. Benoit Pailley.