Artist Chris Burden ’69 passed away Sunday, May 10, at his home, a huge loss for both the Pomona College community and the art world. The cause of death was malignant melanoma and he was 69.
Acclaimed for his performance and sculpture work, Burden was the recipient of the prestigious 2009 Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the 16,000-member College Art Association.
Burden led a controversial and varied career, rising to fame in the early 1970s with a series of dangerous pieces that tested the limits of his endurance. An assistant shot Burden in the arm for Shoot (1971) and in Trans-fixed (1974), Burden was nailed face-up to a Volkswagen Beetle in a crucifixion pose. Other performance pieces found him shooting at a jet passing overhead, crawling through glass, and laying down in heavy traffic on a crowded street.
Perhaps Burden’s most iconic work is the ongoing “Urban Light,” restored cast iron antique street lamps at the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Los Angeles Times notes that it “rapidly became something of an L.A. symbol.” LACMA director Michael Govan told the Los Angeles Times that Burden “wanted to put the miracle back in the Miracle Mile” and said his work “combines the raw truth of our reality and an optimism of what humans can make and do.”