“It’s really one of the great, untold stories of the art world,” the writer and filmmaker Richard Dewey says of the life and work of the late artist Chris Burden. The artist is known for work that is both ephemeral—his shocking and gruesome 1970s performances like Trans-Fixed, in which he had himself crucified to a Volkswagen Beetle—and monumental, such as the 2008 sculpture Urban Light, made of 202 antique street lamps, which is now a fixture outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The artist is the subject of a new documentary, Burden, due to open in theatres and stream on Amazon on 5 May, which Dewey co-directed with the film-maker Timothy Marrinan. The pair—who had previously worked with the artist on smaller projects—began collaborating on the feature-length film in 2011 with Burden on board, filming him until shortly before his death from cancer, aged 69, in May 2015.
The film includes clips dating back to the 1970s of the artist discussing his work, archival footage of his daring performances, interviews with Burden and footage of the artist at work in his studio in California. A cast of art world characters make appearances, from fellow performance artist Marina Abramović to the late UK critic Brian Sewell—who trashes performance art as “a thing silly people go to see”.