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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose to install permanent art from controversial artist

Published: December 6, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Chris Burden is an artist known for his installation and performance art, controversial pieces expressing extreme imminent danger. In 1971, through his performance piece “Shoot,” Burden instructed his assistant to shoot him in the arm with a .22 rifle. In 1974, Burden lay on top of a Volkswagen Beetle and was crucified, nails driven into his hands. Later that year, he lay in a corner of the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York for 22 days without eating, talking or leaving his small space.

As he aged, Burden began to focus more on installation art, art that isn’t hung on the wall but is created for the area in which it resides. His famous pieces include “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1981, when he built a reconstruction of city-states at war with 5,000 war toys from different countries. The piece takes up a whole room. Other examples include “Urban Light” (2002), a work of sculpture in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that is made up of 202 old streetlights.

Burden will bring his artistic vision to Brandeis next semester, as the university pays him two million dollars for a permanent outdoor sculpture piece. Christopher Bedford, the Henry and Lois Foster director of The Rose Art Museum, initially contacted Burden.

“Our hope and expectation is that the sculpture will become an icon for The Rose, for Brandeis and for Waltham; a siren call for visitors from all these communities; a place for programmed activity, as well as a place to simply hang out,” said Bedford.

As of now, the installation is simply planned for 2014, with a more specific date to be announced. Called “Light of Reason,” it will be placed in front of The Rose Art Museum. The exhibit will feature 24 cast iron street lamps restored by Burden. Burden will also make an appearance on campus next semester to give artist talks, with details forthcoming.

“I hope the campus community feels an immediate sense of ownership over the sculpture, as if the space its there’s to do with as they will, whether that involves a music performance, a dance or simply studying. It is supposed to be a civic space, so while it is part of our collection, it belongs to our visitors,” said Burden.

Bedford (and the new exhibits he brought to The Rose) has been credited with raising attendance at the museum, and many hope the new Burden exhibit will only increase art appreciation.

“We’ve already seen a 36 percent rise in attendance in the past year, but yes, we hope this will build on those already impressive numbers,” he said.

Ellen de Graffenreid, the senior vice president for communications, reported that other museums that have had Chris Burden installations have witnessed a rise in attendance.

The funds for the installation come from the museum’s special acquisitions fund. “These are funds that are ‘restricted,’ meaning that they can only be used to purchase art for The Rose Art Museum’s permanent collection,” said Graffenreid.

Graffenreid is also hopeful that Burden’s exhibit will add a lot to Brandeis’ campus. “First, I think it may attract more visitors to The Rose and to Brandeis. It will add a very nice, attractive entry point for The Rose Art Museum, and it will add a campus landmark to Brandeis. It could become a campus symbol in the way that the Castle or the Louis Brandeis statue are now,” she said. She expects students will plan events centered on the exhibit. “There have been discussions about performances, community art events, meditation groups and other activities. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the Brandeis community,” she stated.

Scott Edmiston, the director of the office of the arts, believes the exhibit is an “unprecedented gift.”

“Instead of purchasing artwork for the museum’s collection which students would see periodically, this sculpture-installation will be enjoyed and experienced by the campus every day and for generations to come. On a symbolic level, ‘Light of Reason’ signifies The Rose’s revitalization and Brandeis’ renewed commitment to being a beacon for art and culture. When the work is unveiled this spring, it will be the only major public art in the city of Waltham and will surely become one of the most visited and recognizable sculptures on any New England campus,” Edmiston said.