Tuesday, April 13, 2010


My pal Stacie B. London is among the operators of a Chris Burden sculpture (from 1979) at the Little Tokyo branch ('the Geffen') of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.  Stacie is the exhibition production coordinator, and supervised the sculpture's mechanical renovation. The piece consists of a huge cast iron flywheel from an 1800s coal mine, spun up to high speed by a motorcycle, in this case a 1968 Benelli 250cc, sold here in the US through the Montgomery Ward department store chain as the 'Riverside'.  The Benelli was Burden's own motorcycle from the late 1960s, when he was beginning his art career.  .

Stacie is a vintage motorcycle enthusiast (with a '69 BMW R60US), and enjoys giving the little bike some stick!  Watch the video as she winds the little Benelli up to top gear/top revs, when over 70 mph reads on the speedo; that Big Wheel is moving pretty damn quick.  Note its proximity to her back! After a noisy wind up, the motor is cut and the bike moved away from the madly spinning flywheel; the gigantic mass spins silently for hours...

Chris Burden is a pioneering performance artist/sculptor/bodily harm artist, and probably best known for his shocking pieces of the early 1970s.  In the notorious 'Shoot' from 1971, Burden had himself shot by an assistant with a rifle, at a distance of 15 feet.  In 'Transfixed' from 1974, Burden was crucified onto a Volkswagen beetle (below), which was driven out of a garage on Speedway Avenue in Venice, CA, revved for two minutes, then driven back inside.  His '747' (below) saw him shooting at an airliner near LAX - an act which drew the attention of the FBI.

My favorite and his most canny work by far is 'The Visitation' of 1974, in which it was announced that Burden would perform a piece at the opening of a large group show of California artists in New York.  Anticipating danger and outrage, an excited crowd jammed the gallery space.  Burden sat in the basement, with his wife guarding a locked door.  Only one visitor was allowed inside at a time; when the viewer entered, the door was locked behind.  The assembled spectators grew frenzied in their attempts to see what was happening, crowding at the locked door and breaking windows to the basement in an attempt to get inside.  Of course, Burden sat calmly talking with the 15 or so who actually saw him, while the anticipated drama was provided... by the audience.

If you have an interest in hearing a little noise in MOCA, Stacie rides the Big Wheel on Thursdays 11:30am, 2 & 6pm; other staffers ride the Wheel Monday and Friday, same times, plus Sat/Sun 11:30am & 4pm.

Top photo from The Flog; second pic copyright 2010 by Gretchen LeMaistre, who shoots hilarious portraits... of dogs!


Anonymous said...

Performance art my arse, what’s the symbolism? – at least she should have used a two stroke with the engine running backwards, which at least would have made it an abstract art work.

Anonymous said...

Does something happen after this?

vintagent said...

Yes, the flywheel spins silently for hours afterwards...

Anonymous said...

As long as the wheel is not turning too fast, and I suspect that it is not, there will not likely be a problem. But it is pretty old cast iron and may have stress cracks in it from the day it was made, which would not be serious at steam engine speeds when new but might be just waiting to get worse, or are getting worse, "As Time Goes By" and higher speeds occur.
A few calculations as to the velocity and distance a piece of cast iron from that wheel might travel should be done - if they have not already been done. And perhaps the bike and rider should not be directly in the line of rim piece travel.
Al Johnson

Conchscooter said...

I saw you in Motorcycle Classic's current edition. You looked like Zelig but you were actually at the auction. I think we deserve more pictures because what the magazine showed looked pretty good.

Conchscooter said...

Oh and I forgot to mention. Art garners strong opinions. I think it looks cool. Not life saving or endangering, just cool.

Anonymous said...

unguarded spinning machinery, long hair,close proximity to an over bearing mass; the tension this piece creates is typical of all Burden's later works.

Or, I could be ever so slightly affected and talking out of my a*se, call in the H&S people and put an end to this spectacle now. Nothing to see here folks move long.