The Urban Light installation at night
|Dimensions||814 cm × 1,744 cm × 1,789 cm (320.5 in × 686.5 in × 704.5 in)|
|Location||Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, United States|
Urban Light (2008) is a large-scale assemblage sculpture by Chris Burden located at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The 2008 installation consists of restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them once lit the streets of Southern California.
Urban Light is composed of 202 street lamps arranged in a near grid. The lamps mostly came from the streets of Southern California, including Hollywood, Glendale, and Anaheim, with some from Portland, Oregon. There are 16 different streetlight models represented, many of which were commissioned for particular neighborhoods and streets. The Broadway Rose, the largest and most ornate of the models, is represented by six lamps. The style was found in downtown Los Angeles; a few can still be seen on Sixth Avenue between Olive and Flower Streets. The sculpture's glass globes are of three general shapes: round, acorn, and cone. The 309 LED bulbs are solar powered and switch on from dusk until dawn, governed by an astronomical timer.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Susan Freudenheim described the restored lamps as displaying "elaborate floral and geometric patterns" at the base, with "fluted shafts and glass globes that cap them...meticulously cleaned, painted and refurbished to create an exuberant glow."
Burden viewed his sculpture as a formal entry way to the museum on Wilshire Boulevard: "I've been driving by these buildings for 40 years, and it's always bugged me how this institution turned its back on the city."
Burden first began collecting street lamps in December 2000 without a specific work in mind, and continued collecting them for the next seven years. He purchased his first two lamps at the Rose Bowl Flea Market at $800 each after they were pointed out by curator Paul Schimmel's son Max. The vendor, Jeff Levine, had been restoring the lamps by salvaging parts and later sold Burden more of his collection. Burden purchased others from contractor and collector Anna Justice, who was instrumental in the restoration of sandblasting, recasting missing parts, rewiring to code, and then painting a uniform grey. As Burden's collection grew, the ground around his Topanga Canyon studio became littered with parts, which the artist referred to as "lamp carcasses".
In late 2003, Burden discussed installing a hundred of the lamps at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, but the gallery eventually balked at the cost. While he later sent 14 lamps to an exhibition in London, his goal was to keep as much of his then 150-piece collection together as possible. To that end, he invited visitors to view the street lamps outside his studio, where he had installed them in dense rows on two sides of the building. Among the prospective purchasers in mid-2006 was The MAK Museum for Applied Art in Vienna and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, represented by its new director, Michael Govan. He visited the studio at twilight, and from the driveway, saw the lights lit and concluded that the installation would be a perfect fit. Govan was followed by Andrew M. Gordon, a Goldman Sachs executive who would later become chairman of the museum's board. Gordon approved the purchase through his family foundation for an undisclosed price.
|2008||Urban Light opens at LACMA.|
|2011||Another large Chris Burden work, the kinetic sculpture Metropolis II, opens in an adjacent building.|
|2012||Burden produces a model for Xanadu, another street lamp-themed installation, which would place 58 lights on every exterior ledge of the New Museum building in New York.|
|2015||Second restoration: over a two-month period, the museum scrubs the lamps down to cast iron and applies a more durable paint deemed to have "the right sheen for the sculpture" and that meets California's volatile organic compound regulations.|
|2018||The museum retrofits the lamps with LED bulbs that match the intensity and color of the original incandescents. The move follows a two-year study and funding from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.|
The Urban Light installation took place amid changes to the LACMA campus, which included a new building, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and two new open spaces. The sculpture dominates one of them, a forecourt located between Wilshire Boulevard and LACMA's entry pavilion.
Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Hawthorne gave the arrangement a mixed review, describing Urban Light as "a kind of pop temple, deftly straddling the lines between art and architecture and between seriousness and irony." "It's also a joy to walk through, but there's no getting around the fact that it turns what might have been an actual public square along Wilshire—a space defined from day to day by the people using it—into an outdoor room for one sizable and very insistent piece of art." Hawthorne also argued that Urban Light was the first of four large-scale installations at LACMA in which Michael Govan challenged and undermined "the polite axial symmetry of the master plan he inherited from" architect Renzo Piano and his patrons. Those installations also include Tony Smith's black aluminum sculpture, called "Smoke", that fills the atrium of the Ahmanson Building, a palm garden by Robert Irwin installed along the edge of the Resnick Pavilion, and, just north, Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass.
Although Urban Light fills what had been Renzo Piano's planned "public square" space, it nevertheless succeeded where the empty public space dismally failed. K. M. Williamson, social ecologist and director of Public Art in Public Places, saw Urban Light as not reducing the plaza space but instead fundamentally redefining it and enlivening it. Michael Govan believed that Urban Light imparted a "feeling of walking through an ancient temple", one that echos the Greco-Roman temple facades of many East Coast museums. Those facades "are really faux; they’re neoclassical,...and here [Burden has] assembled an honest-to-goodness Los Angeles temple made of local materials, in our time." ,
Since its 2008 installation, Urban Light has become an extremely popular attraction. According to Public Art in Public Places, Urban Light has become the most visited, photographed and well-known public artwork in Southern California. Director Ivan Reitman was one of the first filmmakers to incorporate the public artwork in a motion picture, using the location for a scene in his film No Strings Attached. Echoing Burden's own view, he called the artwork "an extraordinary beacon" that "lights up a desperate part of Wilshire that felt almost abandoned at night." Urban Light was featured in the Tori Amos video Maybe California and the film Valentine's Day. The work appeared in a Guinness commercial and in a Vanity Fair article featuring cast members of the television series Glee, as well as in numerous amateur photos posted online. LACMA itself has featured the work as part of its own promotional efforts, including a 3D public service announcement preceding the film Megamind. In 2014, the sculpture was used in a dance scene in VH1's Hit the Floor.
The first known selfie taken at the sculpture was shot four days after the work opened and was posted to Flickr. The sculpture has its own hashtag: #urbanlight. While not rented out as a wedding site, Urban Light has been the setting for many vows.
- "Your Scene: Chris Burden's 'Urban Light' sculpture at LACMA". Los Angeles Times. January 25, 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- Freudenheim, Susan (January 30, 2008). "A glow in the dark: Chris Burden's collection of restored lamps will put LACMA in 'Urban Light.'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- Mandelkern, India (February 20, 2018) "The Great Streetlight Scavenger Hunt" Unframed. Retrieved 5-24-18.
- Mandelkern, India (February 9, 2018). Urban Light: A Field Guide (1 ed.). Los Angeles: LACMA. p. 24. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
- "LACMA collections: Chris Burden". Los Angeles County Art Museum. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
- Vankin, Deborah (February 14, 2018). "'Urban Light': Everything you didn't know about L.A.'s beloved landmark". latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
- "The Story of Urban Light (including a December 2008 conversation between Michael Govan and Chris Burden)". unframed.lacma.org. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
- Philips, Lisa; et al. (2012). Chris Burden: Extreme Measures. New York: New Museum, New York and Skira Rizzoli Publications. pp. 208–209.
- Haddad, Paul (June 8, 2015). "Meet L.A.'s Original 'Urban Light'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
- Hill, Libby (March 24, 2016). "LACMA's well-known 'Urban Light' will go dark for two months". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
- Chrish Burden: Metropolis II (Museum plaque). Los Angeles County Art Museum
- Philips, Lisa; et al. (2012). Chris Burden: Extreme Measures. New York: New Museum, New York and Skira Rizzoli Publications. p. 195.
- Hawthorne, Christopher (February 7, 2008). "ARCHITECTURE REVIEW; County museum's expansion reflects two clashing visions; The new building is Eli Broad's realm, while LACMA's director applies his influence elsewhere". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Hawthorne, Christopher (July 7, 2012). "Critic's Notebook: Art on an architectural scale at LACMA". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Williamson, K. M. (August 15, 2014). "L.A.'s Iconic "Urban Light": August is Art Appreciation Month - What if it was also Public Space Planning Appreciation Month?"". American Planning Association | Los Angeles. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
- Public Art in Public Places (2016). "Urban Light - Chris Burden 2008". Google Arts & Culture. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
- Finkel, Jori. "'Urban Light' lights up the screen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- Maher, Tiffany (June 2, 2014). "Tiffany Maher feed: 'A night I will never forget ~ @hitthefloor #devilgirls @LACMA @VH1'". Twitter.