From his early action-based works to the jaw-dropping technical feats of his later sculptures, Chris Burden (1946–2015) consistently challenged mental and physical limitations, reflecting on the surreal and precarious realities of contemporary life. A radical and uncompromising figure with a fierce political consciousness, Burden gained recognition in the early 1970s for pioneering performance works that used his own body as the primary medium. By the end of this decade, he began to produce more large-format sculpture, assemblage, and installation works, shifting his focus from internal to external forces while continuing his preoccupation with themes of social justice, authority and control, speed, and scientific principles. In America’s Darker Moments (1994), Burden depicts five reprehensible scenes from contemporary US history—including the bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—through vignettes comprised of flat figures in the style of antique German toy soldiers. These moments in US history represent pivotal shifts in cultural consciousness, marking instants where the present was reevaluated and the future contemplated—a sociocultural reckoning that remains relevant and poignant especially today.
Photo: Joshua White/JWPictures.com