Artist who stacked hundreds of street lights in Los Angeles passes away at age 69

Art Obituary West
Urban Light (courtesy LACMA)

Urban Light. (Courtesy LACMA)

Artist Chris Burden created, among many other things, Urban Light, an installation of 202 antique cast iron street lights outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Metropolis II, a city model inside the same museum immersed with 1,200 matchbox cars. Burden has passed away at age 69, reportedly from a battle with Melanoma.

Opening of "Light of Reason" at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis (Brandeis University)

Opening of Light of Reason at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis (Brandeis University)

Vermonica by Sheila Klein (Sheila Klein)

Vermonica by Sheila Klein. (Sheila Klein)

With Urban Light, created in 2008, Burden brought street light art to the masses—it’s now one of the most popular pieces of public art in the world. But he was not the first person to explore this medium in Los Angeles. That title would go to artist Sheila Klein, who in 1993 built Vermonica, a sculpture of 25 varying vintage lampposts located in the parking lot of a strip mall on the corner of Vermont Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. The installation still stands today. LA Weekly called it “an outdoor museum that chronicles the history of street light design while testifying to the poetry and sculptural presence of these ubiquitous objects.”

A precursor to Burden’s Urban Light was also intended for Related Companies’ Grand Avenue Project. Frank Gehry and LA art consultant Merry Norris had planned to run Burden’s lights down the center of Grand Avenue about a decade ago, but as the project slowed down LACMA stepped in and bought the artist’s piece.

Vermonica (Sheila Klein)

Vermonica (Sheila Klein)

“What could I do? He had an offer that involved a lot of money,” Norris told AN.

Last year Burden also brought lamp art to the east coast with Light of Reason, an installation of 24 Victorian-era lampposts outside the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.

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