New York

Chris Burden

There was much to read and listen to, and very little to look at, in Chris Burden’s show. Well, there was the car, which I will get to later. And there were drawings, pencilled plans for the car, matched only by the videotapes in sheer sloppiness and institutionalized informality. Burden seems to be playing at celebrity: he has “Bob” Irwin and Alexis Smith execute some of “his” drawings for him, thus establishing his status in the L.A. art world. We also learn that Smith is his new girlfriend. She giggles politely every time Chris tells a joke on the TV.

If this seems peripheral, the main attraction wasn’t any better. It was the go-cart, or B-car (like in B-movie?), or bicycle car. I have to be careful what I call it because Burden exhibits a newspaper article with all the “factual” errors circled in red, with corresponding corrections. As if he were very particular about what was said about his work. The car is not much in the way of visual stimulation, but maybe it is at least fun to drive. It looked quite primitive, but was covered with a shiny silver material (which Alexis chose) which did not look primitive, just tacky.

In conversation, Burden marvels over Mr. Honda and his empire, but he’s only imitating rather than living out Warhol’s conceit regarding businessmen as the best artists. He invites viewers to consider their own car experiences. He relates the story of his life according to the vehicles he’s owned. It seems as if he’s doing it only because Los Angelinos are supposed to be preoccupied with their cars. One woman watching the videotapes became quite animated. She had never really considered all the things she’s done in cars, and that was very exciting. Maybe as a confirmed non-car owner, I couldn’t understand the profundity of this exercise.

Burden claims two things: “The car and the drawings represent a vision” and “[The car] relates to everything else I’ve done because I’ve made it happen.” I can’t imagine that Burden could be serious about anything resembling an implied transcendent vision. Lots of people make things happen, and unless we’re all artists, I don’t see why this particular car is so remarkable. It might have been a valid expression in a manual arts class, but not here.

I don’t think I’m having a wild attack of philistinism; I have greatly admired Burden’s work up to this point. But this time the vision or fantasy was simply too slight, too mundane, without the saving grace of his usually demonic humor. I think Burden backfired in his attempt to be merely childish; he is capable of much more.

Jeff Perrone