The Los Angeles-based artist Chris Burden has died aged 69 from cancer. Born in Boston, he swapped the East for the West Coast in the late 1960s, studying at Pomona College and the University of California. While he trained as a sculptor, he first achieved notoriety for performance pieces such as Shoot (1971), which documented on film and as a still photograph the young artist being shot in the arm. Three years later he created Trans-fixed, another painful performance piece in which he was briefly nailed to the back of a VW Beetle. He was much more than the artist who got shot and was crucified, however.
In the 1980s he began a series of sculptures of increasing size and complexity using materials including children's construction kits, toy soldiers, model train sets and toy vehicles. For the Los Angeles County Museum of Art he created Urban Light (2008), an installation of historic street lamps from across the city that became an instant landmark.
New York's New Museum also benefited from the artist's flair for memorable interventions that push things to their limits. It now has his sailing boat hanging from its exterior, Ghost Ship (2005), plus Twin Quasi-Legal Skyscrapers (2013), which enliven the building's roof. Both were feats of engineering to install. The additions formed part of the New Museum's show Extreme Measures, a retrospective of Burden's work last year.
Lisa Phillips, the New Museum's director, says Skyscrapers will remain on view for the next several months as a tribute to Burden. In a statement, she called him "an artistic giant, mentor to so many, influential teacher, maverick who played by his own rules".
Last year, in conversation with Phillips, who co-organised the exhibition, Burden explained how he went from being a Minimalist sculptor in grad school to making performance pieces. He said that it came out of the realisation that "to be a sculptor you had to move", and that he preferred the description "actions".
Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum's artistic director, says the news "hurts even more because Chris was an artist who had so often represented death in his work. It seems so utterly unbelievable to hear this time his departure is real and not one of his legendary escapades."